Shooting, shooting, shooting. It’s what the Los Angeles Lakers need to make Luke Walton’s offense hum, and, at the very least, it’s what the team is getting in second round pick Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a 6’8” wing out of Kansas who struck fear into the hearts of his Big 12 opponents any time he was behind the 3-point line with even of inches of daylight with which to see the basket.
Like the Lakers’ Moe Wagner selection, it’s easy to see why the front office favored Mykhailiuk with the 47th overall pick in this draft given the team’s ineptitude from behind the arc last season (29th as a team in three point percentage). If Mykhailiuk can overcome his limitations, he could single-handedly boost that number by a few slots. He is that good of a shooter, nailing 40.9 percent of his three point attempts over his Kansas career—and popping treys accurately at an eye-popping 44.4 percent his senior season.
Last season, the Jayhawk ended 40 percent of his shooting possessions off spot-up, catch-and-shoot opportunities, a ridiculously high mark for even the elite shooters of the NBA. There’s a reason Bill Self’s offense favored Mykhailiuk spotting up over any other action: at his volume, the guard might have been the most dangerous catch-and-shoot player in college basketball last season.
However, because just under eight percent of Mykailiuk’s looks were generated running off screens, he had to get creative in the halfcourt to create space to unleash his most formidable weapon.
He created almost all of these opportunities himself with his simple-but-efficient movement off the ball. When a teammate drives, Mykhailiuk almost always relocates to the correct spot, jutting to the corner behind a defender whose eyes drift to the ball handler or filling up to occupy the open space available on the court. Most of his open and semi-contested threes are not the result of any special playmaking or set design; almost always, it’s simply Mykhailiuk reading the defense off the ball, creating space between his defender by sprinting to the spot on the floor which offers the most efficient passing lane for the ball handler, and using his 6’8” frame to let it fly over late defenders.
There was not a lot of diversity to Mykhailiuk’s game in college because there didn’t have to be. He notched an impressive 1.234 points per possession on guarded jumpshots last year and an absolutely ungodly 1.656 points per possession on open jumpers, putting him in the 84th and 95th percentiles in the country, respectively, per Synergy.
When you’re scoring 1.3 points per possession on 3-pointers overall by making the smart but simple reads your old high school coach probably fawns over as he flips through channels every Saturday for some good old fashioned Big 12 basketball, there’s no real reason to frequently attack closeouts or throw in the occasional stepback jumper. He’ll walk into Staples Center and immediately force his defender to stay home on the perimeter, loosening up what at times was an offensive logjam in the paint for the Lakers last season, which will also help given how little shooting the team added in free agency.
Mykhailiuk keeps things simple, and that’s mostly a good thing. However, It will also prove problematic when the off-ball movement that defined Mykhailiuk’s college career starts producing fewer and fewer open shots, as will surely be the case at the next level. The reads — filling open space when the ball handler drives away from him and sinking to the corner when he drives towards him — Mykhailiuk made in college may have tripped up Big 12 defenders, but they are a prerequisite to playing time in the NBA, and they alone will not garner enough clean looks to warrant a spot on the floor.
With LeBron James, the best ever at drawing in multiple defenders and leaving shooters with enough space to fire, in tow, Mykhailiuk could come in handy. When James is off the floor, though, he’ll have to double the amount of shots he takes off screens simply to create close to the amount of open looks he saw at Kansas.
Catching and shooting at the sharp angles and intense speed at which snipers are expected to release at in the NBA is a whole different beast than the cushier shot selection he could afford at Kansas, and becoming efficient at those shots — Mykhailiuk was in just the 46th percentile in college basketball last season shooting off screens, according to Synergy — will require work. A stark year over year improvement coming off screens is a tall task for any player, much less a rookie adjusting to the brave new offensive world of the NBA.
He won’t have a lot to fall back on offensively, either, if he cannot create enough space to create efficient looks at threes. Mykhailiuk took a total of 22 shots off isolation drives last year — opportunities which combined to create just 15 total points, per Synergy. That is bad.
Mykhailiuk’s drives are the inverse of his off-ball movement — inefficient and without purpose. He lets defenders edge him away from the basket consistently whenever he puts the ball on the floor, and because of that his first step is rarely pointed in the right direction at the basket. That leads to a bunch of runners and stepbacks from weird angles along the baseline. Those are tough shots in college, and they will become impossible ones in the NBA.
Mykhailiuk looks uncomfortable putting it on the floor even in basic closeout situations where his defender’s momentum allows for the shooter to blow by easily from the perimeter. He will have to improve on that aspect of his game going forward to become at least a little bit less one dimensional.
There’s actually some untapped potential for the guard as a screener in pick and pop scenarios. It only happened 16 times last season, but Mykhailiuk utilized his supreme offensive intelligence and spatial awareness to slip in front of defenders as he approached his ball handler to set a screen and sprint out to the three point line — a tactic Kyle Kuzma utilized last season to much success. The Jayhawk has the frame to become at least an average screener in the league, and he should work to leverage that ability into more creative open shots.
Defensively, Mykhailiuk showed some potential as a big wing defender who could someday be capable of switching two (maybe one) through four (maybe five) and snagging big time rebounds over less athletic and smaller opponents.
Mykhailiuk showed off his above-average 37” vertical with a few flashy and impressive rebounds last season, and he should be able to tap into and build upon that athleticism going forward to improve himself on the defensive end. He shows the same level of awareness defensively as he does on offense, making him a smart defender who always seems like he knows where he should be, even if he doesn’t always quite make it there.
That trait is a blessing and a curse. It means Mykhailiuk knows whether to defend under or over a screen or to help or stay home on the weak side, but is at times either too physically limited or lacking the effort necessary to complete the defensive task. Mykhailiuk’s wingspan is what’s known as a “minus two” — it’s actually two inches shorter than his height. That’s the opposite of what teams look for in a defensive-minded prospect, and it showed up on film whenever the wing tried to protect the rim, or, more often, get his hand up to contest threes and pull up jumpers.
Still, Mykhailiuk actually possesses many of the prerequisites that show up in future competent NBA defenders, and it’s possible he can eventually become an average, or even slightly above average, NBA defender. Given his potential on the offensive end, that would be a huge factor in getting and staying on the court.
Kyle Korver is usually the go-to comparison for shooters like Mykhailiuk who are 6’7” or above, but I don’t see the rookie fitting into that mold. Korver gets almost 40 percent of his looks coming off screens, per Synergy — five times the amount Mykhailiuk took in college. I don’t think there’s a perfect comparison for the second rounder, but Otto Porter, Jr., who takes nearly 30% of his shots spotting up, might be the best model for what the new Laker could become offensively down the road — a deadly catch and shoot option forcing the defense to stretch out capable of the occasional closeout attack and finish.
Of course, Mykhailiuk having a single season coming anywhere near matching the production of Porter, Jr., the third overall pick in the 2013 draft who the Wizards handed a maximum contract in restricted free agency last offseason, would be a coup for the Lakers, a team surely expecting less from their 47th overall pick.
Realistically, achieving any kind of net positive on the court in the NBA at any stretch in his career would make Mykhailiuk a success story given his draft position. Unless he’s lights out from day one of training camp, expect the second rounder to bump up and down between the South Bay Lakers and the first tier club his rookie season—the Alex Caruso treatment, if you will.
That outcome is far more likely than one in which Mykhailiuk is playing meaningful NBA minutes late in the season and/or postseason, but it’s not a certainty. With the majority of the team’s cap space jammed with below-average shooters, any positive shooter — especially a second-rounder with a miniscule cap hit — could be forced to step in to provide an influx of youth and depth. Mykhailiuk will have to be ready to knock down shots immediately. And, for all his shortcomings, he has proven apt at doing that over his college career.
Despite a new environment, an exponentially quicker game, and the low expectations associated with his draft slot, there is a universe in which, in ten months, Svi Mykhailiuk will hold the ball in his hands, the fate of a crucial playoff possession in the balance, with a window of open space to shoot it between he and the basket.
Mykhailiuk is going to have to shoot that ball. He will be playing an entirely different brand of basketball than he ever has, but if Svi Mykhailiuk has proven anything over his basketball career, it’s that he should be able to knock it down.