Whether it’s smokescreen season or not (and it is), there is still information to be gleaned through the actions of the Lakers and all the other teams who are gearing up for the NBA draft. We are now in the home stretch and this is the last chance to get prospects in for workouts and interviews before selections are made.
With that, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding who the Lakers might select with their #2 overall selection. The presumptive pick, for months, has been UCLA guard Lonzo Ball. However, in the past week and a half, Josh Jackson’s name has been gaining more traction. It is seeming more and more likely the Lakers will choose between these two players and, according to Broderick Turner at the LA Times, there is a divide in the team’s front office on who should be pick come June 22nd:
But according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter because no decision has been made yet, the Lakers are split over whether to use their No. 2 pick in the NBA draft on Ball or Jackson.
The Lakers, the officials said, have been having a healthy debate on which course to take because they are intrigued by the talents of both players.
With the June 22 draft still more than a week away, the officials said, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka, coach Luke Walton and his staff will keep talking.
The Lakers are being diligent, and bringing Jackson for the workout at their practice facility showed how serious they are about him. The Lakers saw Jackson work out in Sacramento last Thursday.
The reporting of a “split” is not new, we mentioned in our write-up on Jackson that ESPN’s Chad Ford had heard similar things last week. This is where the workout process could start to play a bigger role and the fact that the Lakers have brought in Jackson to LA after seeing him in Sacramento last week shows they are going to do all they can to make an informed decision.
In saying that, though, Jackson will not be the only one to get a second look. Turner, among others, is also reporting that the Lakers plan to bring Ball in for a 2nd workout as well, though the final date has not yet been determined.
In many ways, this process reminds me of the 2015 draft where there was a clear top pick (Karl Anthony Towns then, Markelle Fultz now) with several other players vying for the #2 slot. That year the Lakers bucked conventional wisdom by selecting D’Angelo Russell instead of taking Jahlil Okafor. Okafor had been the presumptive pick from the beginning of the draft process, but workouts then shifted things towards Russell (emphasis mine):
It didn’t help that, according to team sources, Okafor’s second predraft workout with the Lakers was a distinct drop-off from the first—whereas Russell was channeling Stephen Curry’s velvety stroke in his follow-up workout with the team.
The above is from a Kevin Ding report from the day of the draft, essentially breaking the news to fans hours ahead and telling us was to happen that evening. Ding’s report also serves as a reminder that the Lakers taking more than one look at potential draftees — especially ones in the top 5 — isn’t exactly new. And it seems especially true when there are multiple players worthy of being selected that high. Remember, too, that after attending an “open” workout held by Kristaps Porzingis, the Lakers brought him in for his own separate workout at their facility later (very similar to what has occurred with Jackson).
It’s hard to know how much of what occurs at these workouts should shape the perception of these players and their future prospects. Former Blazers and Sixers front office man Ben Falk, at his site Cleaning the Glass, wrote a great piece on this recently and noted that, in several ways, workouts offer a unique danger if prescribed too much value:
Anyone who’s worked in the NBA for any significant length of time has heard dramatic stories of workouts that completely threw an organization off. If they weren’t part of a story like that themselves, they’ve at the very least seen first-hand a workout that was not at all representative of the player that prospect would become. The cautionary tales abound. There is no executive, then, that believes a workout is the be-all-and-end-all of a decision. Different decision makers place a different emphasis on how much the workout matters to them and on how much they believe they can learn from the process, but I haven’t met anyone who thinks that it should be anywhere close to the sole basis for their opinions.
Yet, even with this awareness, workouts remain the riskiest part of draft evaluations. Their very nature makes them incredibly difficult to properly weight. Every piece of information in the draft process can be misinterpreted, of course, but workouts are uniquely dangerous for a few key reasons: samples are small, context is hidden, results are subjective, and, most importantly, it’s the last evaluation a team makes before the draft.
I suggest you read Ben’s entire piece as it provides more context for what happens at these workouts and how front offices can use them for better or, in some cases, for worse.
That said, I must say, I am getting anxious and ready for next week to get here already. I’ll have more looks at a couple of other prospects in the coming days, but, in all honesty, I am simply ready for the draft to happen and for the Lakers to have their newest player(s) in house.