The Los Angeles Lakers are in such dire need of a talent influx that there are several different approaches they can take in June’s upcoming NBA Draft. By now, we all know their pick is merely top-five protected due to the Steve Nash deal with the Phoenix Suns from a few years back, meaning they would forfeit the rights to their pick if they happen to wind up with a draft position from six or beyond. The rights to the pick are now eventually owed to the Philadelphia 76ers (top-three protected in 2016), but the Lakers simply could not afford to lose such an asset this summer.
As you’ll see from our latest 2015 NBA Mock Draft, this year’s group of prospects is littered with players who possibly contribute to the Lakers’ rebuilding effort as rookies, as well as plenty of first- and second-round guys who could realistically be developed into productive rotation players. While the Houston Rockets are expected to make a run in the postseason (and finish with a worse pick, as a result), the Lakers also hold the rights to their eventual first-round selection in the upcoming draft as a result of the deal that acquired Jeremy Lin last summer.
Operating under the assumption that Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson – regardless of his eventual position – remain a part of their future plans, the Lakers could conceivably add a quality and complementary piece with both picks this year. Contrary to years in the past, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor appears to be the consensus No. 1 pick and is the player each of this year’s crop of cellar-dwellers are most likely to covet with the top selection.
Although there would be legitimate concerns on the defensive end, the pairing of Okafor and Randle has the potential to be phenomenal if the Lakers were to somehow land the top pick in the draft. You’d have to find versatile, defense-oriented players to surround them as neither are great rim-protectors, but the front office could decide to return to the model of having multiple skilled bigs to center their offensive attack around similar to the way the Memphis Grizzlies have the two-headed monster of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
While not the most explosive athletically, Okafor has big, soft hands that permit him to rebound and work well in close quarters. In fact, a majority of his touches come either in the post or somewhere within the painted area, as Okafor has an array of moves and methods to operate from within the key.
Our thanks to Mike Schmitz and the great crew of guys over at Draft Express, as they do a phenomenal job of breaking down Okafor’s court awareness and vision as he finds shooters along the perimeter and the baseline. Although some of those turnovers could have been avoided, Okafor shows a comfort in attacking off-the-dribble at the 5:33 mark that will translate favorably at any level and on any basketball court.
Randle’s flexibility was praised by the coaching staff and front office prior to his injury, as it appeared the 19-year-old was becoming far more comfortable attacking from a face-up position as well as shooting over the top of defenders worried about his ability to place the ball on the floor. The two of them have the potential to fit rather seamlessly on the offensive end, but it is also important to consider the other side of the court if picking Okafor.
Clearly, this is the side of the ball where Okafor will need to see the most improvement to his game as he continues to develop. Although the footage shows several instances where Okafor utilized his size and length effectively, his effort was far from consistent and his lack of top-notch athleticism really showed against speedy guards and certain opposing bigs. Increased strength and conditioning should help narrow the gap at least to an extent, but Okafor will really need to master certain defensive principles as well as learning the proper angles and positioning in order to be most effective at this level.
Although Okafor is the biggest name in the draft, that doesn’t mean the Lakers are limited to merely hoping and praying for that top selection in order to make significant improvements. If the front office prefers a more defensive-oriented player and the pick happens to land somewhere within the next couple selections, then Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns would be an excellent option to go with.
As a member of college basketball’s most talented core of young players, Towns’ offensive numbers on many nights won’t exactly leap off the page at anyone. That said, and while he definitely has room to develop on that side of the ball, there have been clear signs of improvement to Towns’ offensive awareness effectiveness as he has grown more comfortable throughout his freshman campaign at Kentucky. Where Okafor is more polished on the offensive end, Towns is a far superior athlete and provides a defensive intensity and presence perhaps second-to-none at the top of this year’s draft board.
Towns is a guy who could be developed into the mold of say… a bigger version of Serge Ibaka. Although comparing young players (especially big men) can be misleading at times, a younger (and taller) Ibaka – prior to his jumper – would probably be the closest comparison to Towns at this stage in his development. His footwork, while not superior, is a bit better than advertised. Again, while it is great to be a part of such a talent-rich group of guys, Towns has shown the potential to play as a featured or main attraction. His addition would permit the team to add the rim-protector it lacks and allow Randle to take the reins as the team’s primary post scoring threat while the two of them continued to hone their respective offensive games.
Another possible route the Lakers could decide to go would be in using some of that much-coveted cap space and financial flexibility in pursuing free agent pieces that would also complement their draft selection. Soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Greg Monroe is someone the Lakers have at least reportedly had interest in over the past several seasons. The front office could just as easily decide to go with one of the draft’s top guards with a pick between the second and fifth selections while electing to pair Randle with the experience of someone like Monroe.
Both Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell could fill that role, as each could be seen as guys to eventually place beside this year’s promising rookie Jordan Clarkson. Byron Scott appears to be on a mission to get Clarkson as much time as possible as the lead guard over the final stretch, and the experience could prove to be very beneficial moving forward if paired with a dynamic playmaker like Mudiay or Russell in the backcourt.
Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards (when healthy) have shown what having the ability to create and generate offense at both backcourt spots can do in today’s league, and these Lakers clearly need additional players with playmaking capabilities as that has been an issue in recent years with the absence of Kobe Bryant. Whether Bryant is physically able to return for what would likely be the final season of a Hall of Fame career, the Lakers can ill-afford to place so many responsibilities on the shoulders of a singular player moving forward.
Mudiay is a 6’5, 200-pound true point guard with a quick first step and an ability to not only get to the rim, but finish with either hand when in the paint. He has good size and strength at the position, which permits him to withstand physical defense and remain effective in the face of pressure. Mudiay was very impressive in his lone season playing for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Guangdong Southern Tigers, as the 19-year-old averaged 18 points, 5.9 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game through 12 contests prior to injuring his ankle.
Russell is also 6’5, but with a skill set and physique that could lend to using him as a combo-guard in the NBA. While Russell is definitely a natural playmaker, he also has the ability to assert himself as a scorer if necessary. He can really shoot it from beyond the arc (43.2 percent), and is effective in both catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble scenarios.
As you can see from the footage, both have the potential to be dynamic players in the NBA. Mudiay appears to have the motor and ability to be everywhere on the court similar to that of guys like Russell Westbrook or John Wall, while Russell might compare closer to that of a player like James Harden in terms of how they play the game. To be clear, these comparisons to current players are merely for perspective for the style of play rather than hard-set expectations of exactly how their careers will pan out. Put simply, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss probably couldn’t go wrong if the decision comes down to Mudiay or Russell.
The final player we’ll discuss may be slightly lower on draft boards, but Arizona’s Stanley Johnson could also be a wise selection for the Lakers, especially in the event their pick falls to the No. 4 or 5 range and some of their other preferred selections are gone. The 6’8 swingman could finally be the answer the team has been searching for at the small forward position, as at right around 240 pounds, Johnson is is strong enough to bang with some of the bigger guys at his position yet still explosive and athletic enough to stay in front of the quicker small forwards and shooting guards.
We chose to share this footage, not only because it was a matchup against a fifth-year senior in Stanford’s Anthony Brown (expected to be drafted), but it also because it really displayed some of the all-around game the fundamentally-sound Johnson has. He’s drawn comparisons to a young Ron Artest, but doesn’t come with quite the baggage. Without placing any such expectations on Johnson, he does have the ability to score and produce in many ways and the skill set to be utilized at several positions, which is even more significant in today’s ‘all-interchangeable’ NBA.
It is far too early to project exactly when and where the Lakers may ultimately be selecting in terms of this year’s draft, but it is never too early to begin scouting the available talent. With so much riding on the events of this summer and perhaps even next, this front office can ill-afford to pass or miss on talent of any kind. This could very well be considered the most significant draft of the past 20 years for an organization that generally hasn’t had to rely quite as much upon the process of vetting and assessing players in the past.
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