- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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In the weeks leading up to Thursday's NBA draft, we've heard a lot about the UCLA factor.
The theory goes like this: UCLA players who have played under coach Ben Howland tend to exceed expectations in the NBA because they enter the league ready to play in it. Players such as Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Arron Afflalo have all taken their games to another level once they reached the NBA.
It has been such a reliable trend for so long that ESPN NBA analyst John Hollinger this year added a "Howland variable" into his math-based Draft Rater because "for some reason, every Ben Howland product massively outperformed his estimate as a pro."
So how will this affect the draft status of Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, the two UCLA products entered in this year's draft?
Most projections have Honeycutt slated as a late first-round pick and Lee as a mid-to-late second rounder. But there are some, including Hollinger, who have Honeycutt going in the top 15 and Lee sneaking into the late first and early second round. Could this be the UCLA factor at work?
“In a weak draft with little separation between players outside the lottery both will go higher than they should and some teams may overemphasize the perceived effect of playing in the UCLA system when making the decision to draft them,” said one NBA front office source who has scouted both players.
Honeycutt is a long, athletic player with a high ceiling, but he didn't exactly light the world on fire at UCLA. Last season, he averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting only 40.6% and leading the team with 100 turnovers. Plus, he has holes in his defensive game and at 6 feet 8 and only 188 pounds, he's definitely a work in progress physically for someone who will regularly match up against 220-pound opponents.
Lee, a 6-5 combo guard, averaged 13 points and was one of the top defensive guards in the nation, but he needs work on his long-range shooting (he shot 29.5% on three-pointers last season) to be an effective NBA player.
Still, because they went to UCLA, teams might be willing to overlook some weaknesses and be more willing to take a chance on them.
"Almost every UCLA player who has come out is better in the pros than you’d have any reason to expect based on their college careers," Hollinger said. "It is theoretically possible that it’s a fluke because it’s not a very large sample of players. But it’s getting to be a long enough trend that the fluke factor is increasingly unlikely."
But, the NBA source said, Honeycutt and Lee are different players than those of the past.
“Unlike the previous UCLA players, all of whom had lottery talent…Honeycutt and Lee are now and have always been at best fringe first rounders,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
But if Honeycutt and Lee go higher than expected, you can be certain it had something to do with the UCLA factor. However, that doesn't mean they are destined for success.
"As with any stock, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results," Hollinger said. "Just because it happened for these past players doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen for Honeycutt and Lee."