Lakers Rookie Svi Mykhailiuk Proving He’s Much More Than Just A Shooter
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Svi Mykhailiuk, Los Angeles Lakers
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers guard Svi Mykhailiuk can shoot a basketball. I mean, really shoot a basketball. His form is near-perfect, as textbook and effortless as can be. He’s balanced, shoulders square to the basket, wrist snap, follow through, every time.

In the semifinals of the Summer League tournament on Monday night, Mykhailiuk exploded for 31 points, including hitting six threes in 11 attempts. It was his best performance of the summer, but it was no fluke.

Mykhailiuk has hit 43 percent of his threes so far in Las Vegas after draining 44 percent at Kansas last season. Selected by the Lakers with the 47th pick in the 2018 Draft, Mykhailiuk can legitimately claim to be the best pure shooter in his class.

That in and of itself is remarkable. After all, how often does a team find a player who is the best at anything with the 47th pick?

Born and raised in Ukraine, Mykhailiuk is a basketball prodigy who had the opportunity to play for his country in the FIBA World Cup at just 17 years old. After taking the floor against the likes of Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose, Mykhailiuk then headed off to the University of Kansas to hone his game and prepare for the NBA.

Now 21, Mykhailiuk is quickly catching on with fans during the Las Vegas Summer League. It only took a game, maybe less, for crowds to shout “Sviiiiiiii!!!” every time he rises up to unleash another picture-perfect jumper.

The fanfare is, of course, wonderful, as is all of the attention he gets for his shooting stroke, but it’s also a reminder that there is still so much for him to prove. Not wanting to be pigeonholed into a role as just a shooter, Mykhailiuk has been working hard to show that he’s much more than that.

Last week, the Lakers defeated the New York Knicks for their third-straight win in Las Vegas this summer. On one possession, Mykhailiuk grabbed the ball and took off dribbling down the floor, filling the center lane and comfortably navigating the break like a seasoned pro, ultimately dishing the ball off for a basket.

The play stood out as atypical for a spot-up shooter, so I asked Mykhailiuk about it after the game. He nodded and said, “I can handle the ball. I used to play point guard, I can adjust for teammates, adjust for whatever coach wants me to do.”

Mykhailiuk has already wowed with his versatility and adaptability this summer, but it’s his experience at point guard that truly informs the discussion regarding his skill set. As a 6’8” wing, his background as a one helps to explain why he has such an intuitive feel for the game.

On the other end of the floor, Mykhailiuk has proven to be a better rebounder and defender than he was initially thought to be pre-draft, and teammates are taking notice.

Against the Chicago Bulls, he drew a standing ovation from the Lakers’ bench for shutting down a Bulls guard by cutting off the baseline twice after a switch. Mykhailiuk has a relatively short wingspan but uses his 6’8” frame, quick feet, and court sense to make up for it.

It also doesn’t hurt that the soft-spoken Ukrainian shows a bit of fire when he steps onto the floor. On one memorable play, Mykhailiuk missed a three and watched Chicago rookie Chandler Hutchinson grab the rebound.

Angry with missing, Mykhailiuk took it upon himself to play full-court, pressure defense on Hutchinson, who was drafted 25 picks before him. After a battle, Mykhailiuk poked the ball free and finished with a dunk on the other end.

“He did that himself. Svi is an excellent defender; he can really move his feet,” Lakers Summer League head coach Miles Simon said.

“He has tremendous size and length, he can really sit down in his stance. And you can see all night, Hutchinson, they tried to iso Svi many times. Five, six, seven times, and they didn’t get anything out of it.”

Of course, like any rookie, Mykhailiuk isn’t without his faults. He can sometimes get lost defending off the ball, which can mean death against unforgiving NBA-level scorers.

On one play, Mykhailiuk’s man stayed behind the play after losing his shoe. Mykhailiuk was unsure what to do, standing bewildered in the center of the floor for a moment until floor general Alex Caruso snapped him out of it by screaming at him to go double the ball since he had no one to defend.

Furthermore, Summer League isn’t always a great predictor of NBA success. The Tskitishvili Rule (look him up) says that a breakout performance in July doesn’t mean that player can hang in November.

In other words, let’s pump the brakes on the Klay Thompson comparisons.

That said, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for Mykhailiuk’s summer success to translate. As the Lakers well know, last year, Kyle Kuzma tore up Las Vegas while taking home the MVP Award for the championship game then kept right on rolling through the regular season.

It’s far too early to tell whether Mykhailiuk is on a similar path, and expectations should be tempered, but it’s still difficult to not get excited about what he has shown so far. The Lakers have made a habit out of finding quality players late in the draft, and for now, Mykhailiuk is looking like yet another diamond in the rough.

He’s every bit the marksman he was thought to be coming out of Kansas, but as the rest of the league is finding out, he’s also so much more.

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