Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
While UCLA wingman Shabazz Muhammad has gained considerable attention in recent weeks due to his draft status, many fans and draftniks have forgotten about Larry Drew II, UCLA’s primary point guard during the 2012-13 campaign.
Of course, there’s a reason for that—Drew II isn’t on any mock drafts this year and the likelihood of his name being called on June 27 is slim.
That said, it’s very likely that the point guard gets a shot at a roster spot in the NBA, likely earning an undrafted free agent contract at the draft’s conclusion. At least, this is the expectation—after all, Drew II did finish fourth in the nation in assists per game, and he did earn 3.12 assists per turnover last season, a stat that is rivaled only by Michigan point guard Trey Burke’s 3.31 assists per turnover (a surefire lottery pick), at least among the top-40 players in assists per contest. Let’s not forget that he became UCLA’s all-time leader in assists in a single season.
Indeed, this writer would be shocked if Drew II didn’t earn an undrafted free agent contract by June 28.
Understand, though, that NBA execs might see have some serious reservations about Drew II.
First off, GMs might be scared away by Drew II’s departure from North Carolina a couple years ago. Drew left abruptly, failing to notify his coaches and refusing to give the UNC staff a chance to mend any issues Drew had during his stint at Chapel Hill. This, mind you, was exacerbated by the fact that Drew II left in the middle of a season and just two days after he turned in one of his best performances for the Tar Heels. Later on, Drew would alienate UNC fans even further by saying he “never really liked” North Carolina, adding to the perception that Drew II lacked professionalism. It’s pretty obvious what NBA GMs might think of this.
It didn’t help that Larry Drew II was considered one of the biggest busts in college basketball during his time at North Carolina, being touted as a top-100 recruit out of high school, but losing his starting gig to Kendall Marshall prior to his transfer. Again, NBA GMs won’t be high on a guy who wilted under pressure.
But the recency effect could help Drew II drastically, because while he was seen as a snake and a bust at UNC, he’s considered somewhat of a savior at UCLA, and much of the success the Bruins had in 2012-13 is attributed to Drew II.
Because Drew II didn’t just eliminate his character issues—the senior point guard became something of a leader in the locker room for the Bruins, and he appeared to be a glue guy for a talented Bruins team that desperately needed one.
And his leadership did, in fact, manifest itself in his performance as a floor general at UCLA. Drew II was largely mistake-free and quietly notched assist after assist despite having a usage percentage in the 13’s. While UCLA fans were incredibly skeptical of Drew II—many faulted Howland for failing to use his imagination and allow freshman Kyle Anderson to run the offense—the UNC transfer excelled, turning in sound performances with few mistakes.
From a tangible point of view, Drew II’s basketball I.Q. was relatively high, an argument supported by that gaudy assist/turnover ratio. For the most part, Drew II took a measured approach to his role at UCLA. He was rarely flashy and instead relied on the space given to him—Drew II is actually a poor shooter, so opposing defenses didn’t mind sagging off—to cleverly create passing lanes and dictate the offense that way, at least half the time. The other half consisted of Drew II often attacking the basket and collapsing the defense through penetration, and his sound ball-handling allowed him freedom in making plays for his teammates.
Indeed, Drew II’s ball-handling skills are strong, and his ability to take opponents off the dribble with his quickness proved fruitful.
On the court, it’s important to understand that Larry Drew II is not a scorer, and just as important is that he understands this limitation. He doesn’t finish well around the basket and he’s generally a streaky shooter (and we’re more inclined to say he’s a bad shooter), but this is why he’s often the one making passes and plays for his teammates, and it’s why he was, at one point, the nation’s leader in assists per game.
But asking Drew II to score? If you’re going to rely on Drew II to create his own shots and actually act as instant offense off the bench at the next level? Don’t count on it, because Drew II can’t score consistently.
(Except late in crunch time, because on countless occasions, Drew II was terrific in late-game situations. Most notably, Drew II hit the game-winner against Washington last season, while he also earned the game-winning shot against UCI earlier in the same season.)
Most UCLA fans hold Drew II in high regard these days, partly because of his performance, and partly because of the leadership role he took on a young UCLA team. Many fans will remember that Drew II actually cried at the news of hearing teammate Jordan Adams break his foot:
So yes, this writer is an advocate of Larry Drew II, mindful of damning limitations, an abrasive past, and past performance under the pressure of expectations.
We’re not sure where Larry Drew II ends up, but we’re hoping to see him at the big stage when November rolls around.