Las Vegas — When I first heard about Svi Mykhailiuk’s draft workout for the Los Angeles Lakers, it sounded like it was so impressive that if I asked around it would be spoken of in almost mythic tones, with hushed observations about his shooting as wide-eyed witnesses tried to reconcile what their eyes just saw with what their brains believed to be possible.
And while it turns out Mykhailiuk’s predraft evaluation wasn’t quite that impressive, it does sound like it was a large factor in becoming a Laker almost a month later.
Pete Zayas already reported in the Athletic that Mykhailiuk “aced his workout with the team,” and after gathering details from observers of Mykhailiuk’s workout, the major things he nailed are somewhat obvious — as one would expect for a player who made 40.9 percent of his 3-pointers in college, he shot the ball well from the perimeter, with everyone agreeing that he was better than the average prospect from behind the arc.
“He didn’t miss a whole lot,” said one Lakers staffer in attendance.
But just how well did he shoot it?
“Like not normal,” said another observer.
However, just how abnormal Svi’s shooting was is still a matter of debate. While it’s become clear it wasn’t the type of performance that had onlookers ooh-ing and ah-ing at some nearly paranormal display of shooting, or the best workout the Lakers have ever had, it’s clear Mykhailiuk’s shooting both that day and overall was a major plus for his draft stock in the Lakers’ eyes.
But the Lakers hardly needed a draft workout to tell them that a lights-out shooter for a Kansas basketball program that is among the most visible in the country could hit threes like few other players.
What Mykhailiuk also did was basically answer every other criticism of his game, showing the Lakers he was a better finisher than expected and killing the “Lakers Mentality drill,” where he finished with the second-highest score of any prospect and would’ve likely set the record — he was one point short of tying it — if he had just taken a few layups at the end instead of threes.
So while the workout wasn’t why the Lakers drafted Mykhailiuk — his body of work at Kansas still outweighed it — it did help his candidacy and left some around the organization essentially expecting the Lakers to draft him with one of their second-round picks.
After covering Mykhailiuk for a few days at Las Vegas Summer League, it’s become fairly clear that while the “big DMX fan” might be doing the basketball version of screaming “Svi gon’ give it to ya” out on the court, away from it he’s not the type to get overly impressed with himself.
Perhaps because of that tendency to not overhype his own exploits, it’s not really a surprise he didn’t recall his workout as anything too special.
“I think it was a good workout. There were a lot of good players there. I almost beat a record,” Mykhailiuk told Silver Screen and Roll. ”I think I just showed them that I could do more than shoot. I could handle the ball, drive the ball, be finishing at the rim.”
That type of nonchalant X’s and O’s breakdown of his success is one of just many examples of statements that make it clear this is all just basketball to Mykhailiuk, who has been at the center of what is an almost-NBA level spotlight at Kansas since he was 16 years old and just learning English from his teammates in between gaming sessions on his computer and watching WWE.
But while he might not get too high or too low about any of this off of the court, and even though answering questions about his game might not be his primary motivator for success, just like his draft workout, Mykhailiuk’s time in Las Vegas has been spent rebutting the criticisms of his game, with one sequence typifying how he’s showing that he can do everything people said he couldn’t.
With 4:00 left in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 69-60 win over the Chicago Bulls, Mykhailiuk hounded Chandler Hutchison into turning the ball over before streaking down the court to catch an outlet pass from Moe Wagner and finish with a semi-contested dunk.
The Vegas fans loved this sequence by Svi Mykhailiuk.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) July 9, 2018
Picked up Hutchison from 94 feet away, made him work to get to half court, poked out a steal and leaked ahead for the dunk. pic.twitter.com/RmH8C7ShYH
It was exactly the type of play that has made Mykhailiuk a crowd favorite in Las Vegas, as his combination endless energy reserves and flame-spewing shooting have drawn the loudest cheers of any Laker in Las Vegas outside of one standing ovation for the newly signed JaVale McGee.
But more importantly, the sequence also had all the elements (defensive ability, finishing skills) that draft analysts said Mykhailiuk’s game lacked. It was also everything the Lakers saw in that draft workout on display all at once, even if Mykhailiuk didn’t think it was that out of the ordinary afterwards.
“I did a bad shot so I had to get it back. So I immediately just started playing and hoped to get a steal,” Mykhailiuk said.
But while Mykhailiuk — again — wasn’t impressed with himself, the sequence was enough to surprise Mykhailiuk’s best friend from Kansas and now Hornets draft pick, Devonte Graham, who tweeted the clip at Mykhailiuk and said “Not 1 time did u pick up full court at Kansas.”
And when responding, Mykhailiuk may have revealed the real reason most didn’t get to see that he had such skills until now: He didn’t have to show them.
Didn’t have to lol we had you— Sviat Mykhailiuk (@Sviat_10) July 9, 2018
Maybe things are as simple as context. Maybe Mykhailiuk didn’t get ample credit for his defense because he wasn’t pushed to play at that level until he was in summer league, or even in a draft workout trying to impress Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the rest of the Lakers front office. Maybe it’s just the age old stereotypes about players typecast as pure shooters not being able to do anything else, and maybe Mykhailiuk doesn’t fit into that box.
Whatever the answers are, the Mykhailiuk that Graham didn’t recognize now has other NBA scouts kicking themselves for not fighting harder to get their general managers to draft, while also blowing away his Lakers coaches and teammates so far.
”He was crazy. In a positive way, in a good way. Sometimes I’m like wow,” Wagner said after the Lakers’ first win of summer league. “Because when you know him personally, he’s not an outgoing guy. He’s funny and stuff, but he’s not like the way he plays. His confidence is unbelievable.”
”He’s gutsy,” said Lakers guard Josh Hart. “He’s confident, that’s the most important thing. Some of the shots he hit today were just crazy. When you have confidence like that and you can shoot the way he can, good things happen.”
Mykhailiuk expresses the confidence that basically just leaves his teammates shaking their heads in awe differently off of the court, with his nonplussed answers to questions implying he’s not surprised by any success he has (when asked about his 9 rebounds against the Sixers, he said simply “I just attack though. I just get rebounds, because why not at this point?”).
Mykhailiuk isn’t the only one who was expecting this type of play from him. His head coach in summer league, Miles Simon, coincidentally watched most of Mykhailiuk’s college career as a broadcaster in the Big 12 conference that Kansas plays in. He says he’s seen all of this before, even if many didn’t.
“For three years I called Svi’s games, and I saw his progress from day one when he stepped on campus in Lawrence to his progress now. Nothing really surprises me with him because he’s still 20 years old but he can move, he can jump, he can slide his feet defensively,” Simon said. “I still think he can get physically stronger once he starts hitting the weight room with us.
“He’s known as a shooter but he can do more than that. He’s a good defender, he’s very smart, he has a high basketball IQ. He moves well without the basketball. His 3-point shooting, it’s so fluid he can do it off the move, he can do it off the bounce. He shoots it with range, stand still. I think what we’ve seen in the eight or nine days that we’ve had him is that he has more versatility to his game than people probably give him credit for.”
But the Lakers did give him credit for those attributes, especially after a workout that saw him address any concerns they had about his game, and while Mykhailiuk says he and the Lakers won’t talk about his role for next season until some point after summer league, it’s clear they have plans for him after signing him to a guaranteed deal.
However, Mykhailiuk did admit he’s thought about those plans, and how they could include playing alongside playmakers like Lonzo Ball and ... others ... (he wasn’t allowed to mention LeBron James at the time he spoke to Silver Screen and Roll, because The King hadn’t officially signed yet, and deftly ducked saying James’ name like it was another defender lost by one of his jukes)
“Any team, if you have really good point guards, that’s going to make shooters’ jobs easier when they’re trying to score, because those guys know what they’re doing,” Mykhailiuk said. “They’re trying to get all the players involved. I think it makes it easier for other players.”
But as confident as he is in himself and how James and Ball will make his NBA adjustment period easier, Mykhailiuk still isn’t ready to predict any specific role or level of success for himself during his rookie campaign.
”I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes, man. We’ll see how it goes,” Mykhailiuk said.
If Mykhailiuk’s first season goes anything like his first Lakers workout, it will go pretty well.