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In the weeks leading into the draft, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion the Lakers would select whichever big man the Minnesota Timberwolves did not select. This was presumed to be Duke’s Jahlil Okafor as Karl Anthony Towns began to solidify himself as the top player on most GM’s draft boards.

As time passed, however, Ohio St. point guard D’Angelo Russell gained momentum as a real option. And on Thursday night, that momentum turned into truth as the Lakers passed on the big man to select the guard instead.

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The NBA Draft is finally here and it seems as though the whirlwind is only intensifying. Whether we’re talking about who the Lakers may draft, whether there are trades to be made, what may happen in free agency, and how the latter two items may affect the former, it seems the only thing we know about the Lakers right now is how much we actually do not know.

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When watching today’s the NBA, it is hard to escape the idea that the league is moving more and more towards perimeter oriented attacks. The pick and roll is now a primary action of most offenses and teams are valuing spacing and three point shooting more than ever. The Warriors just won the championship featuring an offense predicated on high volume three point field goal attempts, backed by Steph Curry, the first point guard to win league MVP and an NBA championship in the same season since Magic Johnson. And while I’m of the mind that the NBA isn’t so much a guard’s league as it is a skill league, it would be foolish to ignore the importance of a dynamic perimeter player to winning basketball.

This brings us to D’Angelo Russell, the Ohio State point guard who is currently rated as the top guard in the draft and a real option for the Lakers with the 2nd overall pick. While some will bristle at the fact the Lakers would even consider passing on whichever big man is on the board after the Wolves make their selection, Russell’s game is diverse and exceptional enough to put some of those concerns to bed.

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There may be no bigger time of information misdirection (i.e. lies) than in the week plus ahead of the NBA draft. This is the period where strategic leaks, the up-talking and downplaying of prospects, and spin takes full form from all sides. Be it front offices, “league sources”, agents, or “those close to” the players, it is best to take most reports with a grain of salt and just try to wait it out until the names are actually called the night of the draft.

With those caveats out there, the player whose stock is climbing quickly is Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis. The seven footer held a public workout in Las Vegas on this past Friday and the Lakers were one of several teams who had representatives present to see what he could do. The workout was, apparently, a huge success as Porzingis flashed the shooting stroke and combination of size plus athleticism scouts go crazy over:

On the heals of that impressive showing, Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting the Lakers had Porzingis in for a workout on Monday evening:

Every day, front-office fascinations rise with Porzingis. Every day, he’s moving himself closer into contention to become one of the top three picks in the NBA draft on June 25. Los Angeles Lakers officials conducted a workout of Porzingis on Monday night at the franchise’s El Segundo, Calif., practice facility, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Suddenly, Porzingis is pursuing the Lakers’ pick at No. 2, along with spectacular Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. Suddenly, Porzingis is changing this NBA draft.

Reports like the one from Woj, especially when coupled with the fact that this was not a “public” workout like Jahlil Okafor, Emanuel Mudiay, and D’Angelo Russell went through when visiting the team, will only ramp up that speculation. After all, Porzingis is talented, has professional experience in what many consider the 2nd best league in the world, and has a huge upside. When drafting as high as the Lakers are, doing due-diligence on all players who are worthy of a top 5-ish pick is worth the time.

We cannot know for sure what any of this means, of course. If I were speculating, I’d argue that the Lakers are doing only what they said they would do: look at as many of the top prospects they could in order to make the best, most informed decision possible with the #2 overall pick. If asked why the workout Woj is reporting was not as public, I might counter with reports heading into Friday’s Las Vegas workout noting the group event would be his “only workout heading into the draft”. These answers aren’t as sexy as ones implying the Lakers are leaning towards taking the young Latvian, but they seem reasonable to me.

In any event, take these reports for whatever you want them to be. For what it’s worth, I think Porzingis’ talent is real and that he, like any of the other top players in the draft, has a chance to be special. As good a chance as Towns or Okafor or Russell? Who knows, honestly? I know I don’t. So much of the answer to that question will depend on countless variables specific to the organization which selects him. But the kid can play.

While the workout video above is what has gotten many GM’s salivating, the fact is those who have scouted him point to a skill set deployed in game situations. A skill set like the one below. Enjoy, and tell me what you think in the comments.

The always smart and clever Dan Devine of Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie made his comment above right around the close of the 1st half of Sunday’s game 5 Warriors’ win over the Cavs. Mozgov would only end up playing an additional four and a half minutes all night (and did not start the 2nd half), Ezeli got a shade over three minutes all game, and Bogut did not play at all. No country for big men, indeed.

After the game, both head coaches were asked about the decision to play their big men as few minutes as they did. I’m paraphrasing, but Steve Kerr cited the desire to speed the game up to a tempo more his team’s liking while Blatt dodged the question entirely, simply noting that what his team was doing was working (noting “the game was close the entire time”).

This shift away from big men, especially sine it has occurred on the league’s biggest stage, combined with the excellent play of LeBron and Curry while each team trots out lineups filled with other versatile wing players has reinvigorated the discussion about the direction of the league and how it has become, essentially, a “guard’s league”.

In a way, I really don’t blame people for making these conclusions. After all, if you watch the myriad of perimeter difference makers the Warriors deploy or watch LeBron almost single handedly keep his team in games by making plays all over the floor as a scorer and facilitator, it’s easy to become intoxicated with the style of play we are watching.

However, I would caution against tilting too far away from any perspective which does not properly value big men. The NBA hasn’t so much become a game dominated by wings as much as it has become a game dominated by the most skilled players. And those players, for the most part, are wings.

But this does not mean skilled big men do not have immense value in this league. Sure, either the Warriors ore the Cavs will win the championship this season, but if you look back at the championship teams through the past decade and a half, you see names like Duncan, Bosh, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, KG, Nowtizki, Rasheed, and Shaq. Not all of these players were “Centers”, but all operated as foundational pieces within their teams offensive and defensive schemes.

When looking at the draft, both Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor can only hope to reach the heights some of the names mentioned above did, but when hoping so, it is important to note both have a high enough skill level to do so. Towns, as we have discussed, has an inside power game combined with an ability to stretch his game to the perimeter which is not often seen. Of course, there are fewer questions about Towns than there are, it seems than about Jahlil Okafor.

As for Okafor, we love to pick him apart, but his deft low-post scoring and ability to pass and make reads against schemes meant to slow him are key traits needed for any big man working 15 feet and in. When making the leap to the NBA, he has the tools to be able to operate in the hub of most any offensive scheme as a scorer and a playmaker for others. Defensively we have our question marks — valid ones, I’d add — but only time will reveal if he’ll be able to use his physical tools (length, strength, quick feet) to be in the right position and challenge shots often enough to be a key contributor on that end.

Of course, neither will be guards facilitating offense via pick and roll initiations or wing isolations on a cleared side from the three point line. But both have the skill needed to be able to operate from the middle of the floor as scorers or passers, making correct decisions to help their teams excel.

So, while it’s reasonable to glorify the excellent guard and wing play being displayed in the Finals, it is not reasonable to look at Bogut or Mozgov and equate that to the value of all big men moving forward. For one thing, the Finals are about winning one series against a specific opponent who has certain strengths and weaknesses to counter and exploit. But second, and even more important, some big men can also play the skill game and bring enough diversity of game and polish to thrive no matter what direction the league is evolving. After all, the name of the game will almost always be to get the ball as close to the hoop as possible to create the most makable shots. Big men who can do it consistently will never go out of style.

Erez Buki is a long time reader and commenter under the handle P. Ami. Heading to live in the Bay Area this summer, Erez has had the pleasure of following the Lakers while growing up during the Showtime era in LA, seeing first hand what great team basketball looks like when played by the greatest players. Having lived around the world he learned the game playing street ball all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, the university courts of Beijing, the indoor games of Portland, Oregon and plenty of stops in between. It turns out you can make out the words Lakers, Kobe, Shaq and Magic in all the language groups on this planet. He is currently working on a his degree in Medical Anthropology waiting for the iconic Laker his young kids will grow up loving. This is part II of his series looking at prospects who might be good targets for the Lakers’ later draft picks.

When we last explored players the Lakers could take with the 27th and 34th picks  we took a look at players that I favor in Christian Wood, Montrezl Harrell and, George Lucas De Paula. The first two are power forwards, with Wood likely learning to play the small forward. De Paula is a raw point guard with upside that is sliding down the mock draft boards. I like Wood and De Paula due to that long term potential. The Lakers need to develop the best possible talent. On the other hand, the team has some gapping holes at the swing positions. Yes, Kobe is coming back and so is Swaggy P but one more season of Kobe is about all we can hope for and Nick Young could as easily be nicknamed Satisfied P. Neither player is a long term solution at the two or three. The question is, can we find someone in the draft to fill either spot?

What is a team looking for from the swing position? Basically, you want Paul George, Kevin Durant and Kawai Leonard. You want long, explosive players who can shoot from anywhere on the court, finish in traffic, create for others and defend three positions. Oh, and rebound on both ends, come up big in key moments, sell jerseys, be professional, stay loyal, cook, do the laundry and take care of the kids. It is uncommon to find those players late in the first round. What you might find is a player with a few of those skills and the raw tools to develop a few more.

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I’m not a big Star Trek guy, but I remember watching this old “The Next Generation” episode where Scotty ended up in some time warp and found himself on the new version Enterprise. In one of the scenes he was talking to the ship’s engineer (Geordie LaForge) who was working on a report for Captain Picard. In their conversation Geordie was telling Scotty he had no time to talk because he told the captain he’d have this report for him in an hour and he needed to get it done.

Scotty asked Geordie “how long will the report really take you to finish?” and Geordie responded “an hour.” Scotty stared at him and said, “You told him how long it would really take? How do you expect him to think of you as a miracle worker if you told him how long it would really take?!”

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Jahlil Okafor, the big man from Duke who many think will be available when the Lakers make the 2nd pick in the upcoming draft. Well, if Scotty was talking to Okafor, he’d probably tell him something very similar to what he told Geordie — that he had a problem managing expectations and that he should work on making some of the things he does seem a bit more difficult.

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In the lead up to the NBA Draft on June 25th, we will look at several prospects who might be available when the Lakers make their selections. We have already looked at potential prospects for the team’s later picks, but today we zoom up to the top of the draft with a look at Karl Anthony Towns.

The draft lottery offered a wild swing of emotions I will not soon forget. In an instant I went from nervous wreck to jubilation. Franchises can be turned around when lottery luck shines on them just right. The Lakers, of course, hope they will be next to reap the benefits of said shining.

Things are and are not that simple, of course. The Lakers are ensured an ability to draft any but one player available in the draft; they will have any choice, but the one the Timberwolves take with the #1 overall selection. Rumors will swirl between now and draft night who Minnesota will take, but ask many fans in the Twin Cities area (and beyond) and they will tell you who the choice should be: Karl Anthony Towns, of course.

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