LOS ANGELES — The Lakers have struggled to shoot this year. They are the third-worst shooting team in the entire NBA from behind the arc (33.4 percent), and don’t exactly boast a ton of players known for their shooting ability.
Because of those issues, the team has been hoping they could get something, anything out of rookie Svi Mykhailiuk, who shot 40.9 percent from behind the arc in college and was borderline-unbelievably lethal during the draft workout that helped sway the team to select him.
So far Mykhailiuk has only shown flashes of that type of ability in the NBA while shooting 34.4 percent from distance this season, which only ranks seventh on the Lakers. But nights like Mykhailiuk’s game against the Chicago Bulls, in which he came in and provided a sorely needed spark off the bench by hitting two of his four threes, demonstrate why Lakers head coach Luke Walton says he’s “trying” to find more minutes for Mykhailiuk.
He just needs him to earn it.
“I want to get him opportunities, especially as we struggle to shoot. We think that he could be an elite shooter in this league one day,” Walton said. “I’m looking for minutes for him, and he knows that, so he should be doing the work and staying ready.”
For most of the season, Mykhailiuk’s only way to stay ready outside of practice was by sitting on the bench and soaking up knowledge. From his normal seat on between the injured but still very vocal LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, that task has been pretty easy.
“It’s great. They always talk about basketball and how they game goes. They literally talk it out every play,” Mykhailiuk said, although he also admits it wasn’t part of some grand plan from him or the Lakers for him to sit there as a rookie. It just kind of happened, but it’s worked out well, allowing him to easily absorb knowledge from two of the smartest players in the NBA.
It’s a seat that also led to one of the funnier social media moments of the season, when Mykhailiuk played along with a joke on Twitter implying that James didn’t know who he was until January:
It was Nice to meet you this evening Mr. Lebron James. Big fan of your game lol @KingJames https://t.co/pSbeQi4JRE— Svi Mykhailiuk (@Sviat_10) January 3, 2019
Unfortunately, as hilarious as it is to imagine that James only just now met the 2018 second-round pick, Mykhailiuk said that moment was “just a regular handshake.”
But if James actually hadn’t known who Mykhailiuk was before, he might have started to notice him on Tuesday night against the Bulls, when the rookie was able to take a break from his lessons to go out and apply them on the floor, providing a spacing threat while running off of screens from Tyson Chandler to hit his two triples — and even demonstrating his underrated passing chops on a lob to Chandler — as the Lakers pulled away.
“I was just playing loose, and people like Tyson set really good screens and got me open and other guys were getting me involved,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just made my shot.”
Walton said the plan is to keep giving Mykhailiuk “spot minutes” to fire away, and then the rest is up to him.
“Depending on if he makes or misses his shots, those spot minutes can turn into bigger minutes,” Walton said.
That might sound like a lot of pressure to put on a rookie trying to find his way on a team with playoff aspirations, but Mykhailiuk says he hasn’t need any extra encouragement to shoot.
”I would say it’s a rule of basketball that if you’re open, you’re gonna shoot if you can shoot,” Mykhailiuk said. “It’s part of being unselfish, because if you’re unselfish you’re going to take a shot if you know it’s the right play.”
That’s the mindset the Lakers will need him to have, and if Mykhailiuk’s jumper can continue trending upwards, the shooting-starved team will continue to find minutes for him to make the right plays. Until then, whether it’s listening to James and Rondo or practicing the shots he knows the Lakers’ offense is going to open up for him, Mykhailiuk is just going to keep trying to stay ready for his opportunity.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.