Svi Mykhailiuk was a member of Ukraine’s U16 team the first time I heard his name. It was 2013, and he was tearing up the European Championships while garnering buzz as a future NBA star. He enrolled in the University of Kansas the following year, where he was the youngest player to appear in a Big-12 game at just 17 years of age, but his collegiate career never quite lived up to the hype that he generated overseas.
He played in his first game for the Ukrainian National Team since 2014 over the weekend, looking very much like an older version of the teenager who used to dominate international competition. He scored an efficient 22 points to lead Ukraine to a crucial 76-65 win over a previously undefeated Spanish team in the European World Cup qualifying round and very much looked like the best player on the court.
Svi Mykhailiuk showed off how much he's already improved in some areas during FIBA play. @LakerFilmRoom breaks it down.https://t.co/ANQ9X37lKZ pic.twitter.com/j9Tmy5TIAK— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) September 18, 2018
Svi’s sweet shooting stroke was on full display over the course of the two games, but how he operated off the ball was particularly relevant to his projected role on the Lakers. He was significantly better at setting up his defender while coming off of screens than he was in Summer League, walking them down and exploding in the other direction. His ability to do that will have a direct impact on the volume of shots that he’s able to get in catch-and-shoot situations. NBA-caliber defenders will muster up more resistance in those situations than Spain and Montenegro’s defenders did, but Svi was at least using the correct tools at the right time to get himself open, which wasn’t always the case in Summer League.
His responsibilities for Ukraine are different than they will be for the Lakers, as he’s their most viable shot creator and runs quite a few high pick and rolls as a result. He was able to take advantage of defensive mistakes by opposing bigs via a nice hesitation dribble to get good looks at the rim for himself, but struggled to make the correct passing reads in a 90-84 loss to Montenegro. Despite the defeat, he was a game-high +12, as his gravity opened up opportunities for teammates like Alex Len.
As fun and exciting as his summer has been, he needs to improve as an off-ball defender if he wants to present a credible case to Luke Walton for why he should get rotation minutes this season. He ran into screen after screen in these two games, which was likely a combination of slow communication with teammates and poor individual technique on his part, particularly concerning his footwork. He’s probably more equipped to play in lineups that switch screens at this point.
My inclination to look at his weaknesses through a more critical lens is indicative of how good he can be. It isn’t unusual for a young player to have difficulty navigating screens on the defensive end, nor was he drafted as high pick and roll savant. All told, his return to the Ukrainian National Team was a rousing success and more evidence that pointed in the direction of the same conclusion we’ve been coming to since the Lakers drafted him: Svi Mykhailiuk can hoop.