The middle of the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft is full of talented but polarizing players. One among them, Miami point guard Shane Larkin, has been matched up with the Bucks in a number of mock drafts. Despite conflicting reports about his workout with Milwaukee, Larkin continues to pop up in rumors as a draft target. As a member of the expansive "middle class" of the draft, he could jump into the late lottery or fall to the high 20s. So why do the Bucks seem to have an eye for him? Steve von Horn and Dan Sinclair took to the internet to discuss Larkin's NBA potential.
Dan: It's clear to you, me, and everybody, Steve, that the Bucks' big needs lay in the backcourt and wings, where a combination of impending free agency and general lack of talent have the Bucks scrambling to fill holes in the roster. There's always a possibility the Bucks could grab a big man if they judge him to be the top player left on the board--John Hammond is usually adamant about drafting for talent before need. But generally, mock-drafters have avoided slotting bigs in with the Bucks. Shane Larkin, the sophomore point guard from Miami, has been bandied about as a possible target at #15, and I have to say I'm intrigued. He's fast, super athletic, a good shooter, and has a lot of experience running an effective pick-and-roll system. I assume you, like me, are just thrilled with the idea of rebuilding the Bucks with another diminutive lead guard?
Steve: I feel bad about making Shake Larkin pay for the mistakes and short-comings of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but somebody has to pay. We all watched the Jennings era unfold and learned something about the harsh limits imposed on diminutive point guards with any lingering holes in their game. Those lessons may not explain away the career of every small point guard on Milwaukee's radar until the end of time, but I find it hard to make an exception for the first shiny new toy I see. Larkin isn't the same player as Jennings -- he genuinely excelled in a pick-and-roll heavy offense at Miami in his sophomore season -- but I also know that lifetime reserve Earl Boykins had a feel for PnR and probably put up some pretty nice PnR numbers in the NBA as well. Larkin's impressive vertical jump at the Draft Combine in Chicago overshadowed a few more important numbers for me. At 5'11.5 with a 5'10.75 wingspan, Larkin not only ranks as one of the smaller players in this draft class, but as one of the smaller prospects in the last decade. His wingspan is shorter than nearly every other player (seventh-to-last) in the massive Draft Express measurement database that holds information dating back to the 2000 NBA Draft. Something just tells me he's going to come up a bit...short...as an NBA prospect. I'm just not sure if the signal is coming from my head or my gut.
Dan: I won't lie, there's something really disconcerting about throwing my support behind an NBA prospect who's only about 3 inches taller than I am and boasts a smaller wingspan than a great blue heron. But while Larkin's size gives me pause too, I think there are reasons to believe he's well-equipped to deal with that disadvantage. For starters, he's probably going to be a better shooter and a more willing passer than Jennings, who at least showed 4 games of what even a shoot-first, small guard can do at his best. Size is mainly an issue for point guards in two spots: dealing with traps/hedging from PnR defenders, and finishing around the basket. His solid pull-up jumper should be a big boost in the PnR, especially if he can master a few space-creating moves off the bounce. He's already an experienced passer in that basic play, creating a lot of shots for his teammates while taking good care of the ball. As for the finishing issue, Larkin shot 62% at the rim last year according to Hoop-Math.com (thanks for enlightening me to that site, by the way), and only 18% of his shots there were assisted. To be fair, he'll face much tougher interior defenders and more sophisticated defensive schemes in the pros. His defensive upside is also capped due to his size, which opens him up to getting abused in the post or bowled over on the perimeter. But he's got great quickness, so there's hope he'll hold up better than Jennings has in recent years.
Steve: Those at-rim finishing numbers surprised me, but I'm still worried about banking on his passing ability -- which is also affected by size in the NBA. We know from our time with Jennings that certain passes across the court and through traffic become harder to see/execute in the NBA, and I'm still a bit shocked to look back and see Larkin posted just 3.6 ast/gm (in 31.3 min/gm) during his 68-game career at Miami. I'd be willing to walk back my Boykins comp, but I might still end up somewhere close to a change of pace guy like J.J. Barea. That's probably not bad value at all for the No. 15 pick in this draft, but I don't get the feeling that the pick would solve or settle the PG position for the Bucks.
Dan: A lot would have to break right for Larkin to become a long-term starter for Milwaukee, but I like that he's at least capable of doing a lot of things the Bucks really needed Jennings to do: shoot well, share the ball, run effective half-court sets, etc. But Larkin's limitations might relegate him to nothing more than a rotational guard, which is especially tough to rationalize since he's not exactly an "instant offense" player like you'd prefer to bring off the bench. I'm willing to admit a certain level of overreaction to the lack of polish in the Jennings/Ellis combination we've all been forced to watch for a year and a half, which has probably made me appreciate Larkin's mature game a little too much. Still, he'd bring a high-character, hard-working persona to a locker room that was almost universally seen as in need of some focus and leadership last year. And if that's not enough intangible evidence in his favor, we could always factor in the fact that he was the unquestioned leader of a Miami team that was just damn good and point guards naturally deserve all the credit for everything.
Steve: Maybe Larkin is our last best shot at living the L4GJ dream, and for that reason I could talk myself into a hopeful mindset if he lands on the Bucks. As a side note, the fact that we are probably the only two people left on the planet who get the L4GJ reference makes me sad. SL4EVR does have a nice ring to it...
Dan: L4GJ is dead! Long live L4GJ! Long live SL4EVR!