Before he was ejected for only the second time in his career Friday night after a few elbows, forearms and shoves were exchanged with the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson, Goran Dragic spent his off night Thursday evening in Westwood alongside Josh Richardson at Pauley Pavilion to watch fourth-ranked UCLA and Cal.
It turned into a bit of a makeshift scouting session for the Heat’s point guard, who got a close look at three of the top prospects in this summer’s NBA draft: UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball (6-6, 190), Bruins freshman power forward TJ Leaf (6-10, 225) and Cal sophomore power forward Ivan Rabb (6-10, 220).
At 11-27, the Heat own the third-worst record in the league behind only Brooklyn (8-27) and Philaelphia (9-25) and appear headed for the lottery barring a spectacular turnaround. So, it was interesting to get Dragic’s take at shootaround Friday on three of the top 16 NBA prospects according to NBADraft.net.
“Ball was very quiet,” said Dragic, who had never been to a college basketball game before Thursday night and only went after his agent tossed him a couple tickets. “But, you can see he's really a talented guy, really explosive. He plays with ease.
“There was a lot of talent over there. I like the kid from Cal – Rabb. He had 17 [points] and 20 [rebounds]. They were double-teaming him the entire game. They started double-teaming him from the first minute and it’s really tough to get a rhythm, and he did it. You can see UCLA, they've got young guys, a lot of them like to run. You saw [Leaf]. He had that dunk. He’s really athletic. He can be an interesting player.”
The Heat, which figures to have plenty of spending cash this summer after it recoups $25 million in salary cap space alloted for Chris Bosh, can end up going a lot of different ways in the draft. Ultimately, general manager Andy Elisburg said last week, the franchise is always going to choose the best player regardless of position.
Most draft analysts consider the greatest position of strength in the draft is at point guard with Ball, Washington’s Markelle Fultz (6-4, 190), N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. (6-2, 195) and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (6-3, 175) at the top of the list.
Ball, who was only 5-of-12 shooting and 1-of-7 from three-point range in Thursday’s UCLA 10-point victory, finishing with 14 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals, is an intriguing option because of his playmaking ability and long-range shooting.
He ranks second in the nation in assists (8.0), is shooting 51.6 percent for the season, 41.1 percent from three-point range and has already led his team to a win at previously No. 1-ranked and always loaded Kentucky earlier this season.
The Bruins were 15-17 last season, only the school’s fourth losing season since John Wooden arrived in 1948.
UCLA (15-1) ranks third nationally in scoring offense at 93.1 points per game and flies with plenty of pace and space talk (Spoelstra’s favorite) behind Ball, who could play point guard, shooting guard or small forward at the next level. While his unconventional looking jump shot reminds many – including Dragic – of Kevin Martin, his game is more comparable to 10-time All-Star Jason Kidd.
The only semi-complaint UCLA coach Steve Alford had for Ball Thursday night was that he wished he would have been more vocal as Cal rallied a 20-point deficit and made it a tight game late against the Bruins before Ball iced the game at the free throw line.
“I told Zo, ‘We have empowered you and you have got to get everybody in and chew them [out],’” Alford said. “It can't just be me because my voice just becomes that same voice all the time.”
That said, Lonzo still made a lot of plays to help his team win even if his stat line wasn’t juicy.
“He defends,” Alford said. “He had three steals and a lot of deflections. I think he can just continue to lead our team by being even more vocal with them. I am not going to worry. As long as he takes good shots, if the three ball doesn't go in, get to the line more. But I thought he did a nice job defending and that was key.”
A LOOK AT THE DRAFT'S TOP POINT GUARD PROSPECTS
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, Fr. (14.3 ppg, 51.6 FG%, 41.1 3FG%, 8.0 AST, 2.3 TOV, 3.5 A/TO)
De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky, Fr. (15.6 ppg, 43.9 FG%, 13.8 3FG%, 6.8 AST, 2.4 TOV, 2.8 A/TO)
Markelle Fultz, Washington, Fr. (22.3 ppg, 49.6 FG%, 43.3 3FG%, 6.5 AST, 3.2 TOV, 2.0 A/TO)
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State, Fr. (19.6 ppg, 46.6 FG%, 38.8 3FG%, 6.5 AST, 3.1 TOV, 2.1 A/TO)