Archives For Draft

Draft Day Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  June 25, 2014

For the purpose of this post, I am not going to explore the idea that the Lakers trade this pick as part of some deal for a more NBA-ready veteran or in some master scheme to clear more cap space in their pursuit of a certain free agent (or two). Instead I will focus on the Lakers making a selection in this draft with the idea they will keep the pick. Which, you know, could totally still happen.

I won’t pretend to know what the Lakers will do with their pick. In fact, I doubt their front office does either. Sure, there are scenarios and contingencies but in reality there will be more than one good choice on the board when the Lakers select from their 7th slot. When the clock starts for their pick they will have to trust their evaluations, throw in some gut feel, and dive into the prospect pool in hopes of nabbing a difference maker.

To this point in the process, I really haven’t found a favorite to root for the team to pick. The Lakers have not selected this high since before I was in elementary school. The idea is so novel to me that it seems strange to fall in love with just a single prospect when there is potential for so many of them to help the team in one way or another. As I’ve said many times before, I could make a case for any of the top eight players on most draft boards to come in an be a rotation player on next year’s team.

At this point in the process, however, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees. You can only watch so much tape on a prospect before your start to either overly nitpick or praise. Watch too much of Julius Randle or Marcus Smart and you might become too concerned with a lack of length or a style that is too dependent on bullying players who are in the same class physically. Or you go back and watch Dante Exum look amazing against a team of top american prospects and forget that it was only one game. This is the nature of evaluating and a reason why I am happy the draft is finally here. There is no more film to pour over in order to evaluate how good a player might or might not be. There is only making the pick and starting the process of prospect development that will be a much bigger factor in the player reaching his ceiling than any of those games we have watched over and over again on our TV and computer screens.

With that being said, here are my final thoughts on a handful of prospects who the Lakers may have the opportunity to draft. Who knows, one of them might actually end up being a Laker later on today.

*Joel Embiid, C: First off, I don’t think he falls this far. When it comes right down to it, someone will gamble on him in picks 3 to 5 via their own pick or trading up to get him. Guys with his size + burgeoning skill are rare and someone will take him even with the specter of Oden/Yao/etc out there. So, in saying that, if he were to somehow make his way to #7, I’d want the Lakers to draft him. Yes there are injury concerns and those certainly worry me. If he ends up not recovering or having a limited career because of recurring issues either with his foot or his back, I’d probably look back and wonder why the team was so silly to take the risk. But, today, I’m all for the gamble. Players with his measurables who flash his ability don’t come around too often and at the 7th pick in the draft I think the risk is worth taking.

*Dante Exum, G: Another player who I don’t think will last to this point but am hopeful who will. I am just too intrigued by his measurables and the little tape I have seen of him to let go of the idea that I’d want him to be a Laker that I have to include him here. I think he can be a true difference maker in the league as he develops physically and learns how to use his physical gifts. I know there are real questions about whether he’ll develop well and if he can truly be measured against other top players due to his background and lack of exposure against top competition. But in 5 years I could see him being one of the best 2-3 players from this class in the same way that Wade was from his draft. If that sounds like too much praise or a reach, it may very well be. But when I watch him on tape I see a smooth athlete who understands angles, how to use a change of pace, and who sees the floor well. I also see a guy who has pretty good mechanics on his jumper and looks like he can finish in traffic against bigger players. Add in his pedigree as someone who grew up around the game and I can imagine a development arc similar to Tony Parker — another foreign born prospect with an american father who came into the league young.

*Julius Randle, PF: I don’t know if Randle will last, but he’s someone who continues to end up being the Lakers’ pick in mock drafts. He has his detractors, but the more and more I have watched of him the more and more I believe he will be a very good player in this league for a long time. He has good size, skill, and by all accounts is a hard worker who has a drive to be a great player. Also, I find comfort in bigs who compete and have the motor he does to continue to get after it even when things go against him. Things may be hard for him in certain match ups, but I don’t see him as a guy who will quit. Instead I see a player who will take up the challenge and find a way to be effective. Other players have more upside, but this guy just seem to know how to play the game while finding ways to maximize his strengths. I’d be more than happy if he ended up a Laker.

*Aaron Gordon, PF and Noah Vonleh, PF (tie): I honestly can’t decide between these two. Vonleh has the measurables and I think he will probably develop into a fine offensive player who can rebound. But whispers about how intuitive he is as a player concern me as players like that end up plateauing in their development because they never figure it out. Will he be one of those guys? I’ve no clue, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it. That said, while he didn’t flash the defensive ability I would like, he has great two-way potential due to his size and a big like him who can stretch the floor and hit the glass is pretty rare. Will he ever be as good as, say, LaMarcus Aldridge? I’ve no clue, but his ceiling is probably that (or a bit higher) and that is very intriguing.

Gordon to me, in a way, is the opposite. He comes off as a very smart player who will take to coaching well and develop positively as he learns to channel his athleticism. And that athleticism is considerable. I don’t know if he’ll be a SF or a PF long term and his jumper is very concerning. But as a P&R dive man and a weak side slasher who can finish above the rim and hit the offensive glass I see him having a niche he can slide into early in his career offensively while being an excellent defender. I’d add, that his positional versatility is something that works in his favor for me. The league is moving more and more towards Forwards who can start the game as a 3 but soak up minutes as a 4 and Gordon seems like he’ll be able to do that throughout his career. With his defensive potential what it is, I think you have to take notice and rank him accordingly. I guess in the end I’d go Gordon over Vonleh which is something I didn’t think I’d say at this point in the process. I know he has his detractors and the idea of him floating around the wing while his man helps off him is a concern, but he is skilled and smart enough that I think he will be able to compensate.

*Marcus Smart, PG: Before I take too much heat for not mentioning Smart until now, let me just say that I’d be happy if Smart were there and was the pick. I think he’d contribute more, in year one, than a couple of guys I have higher on this list simply because he does have pro-size and seems to have a plan in how he attacks on both ends. Knowing how you want to do things is important for a young player and with his competitiveness I think he will be a fine pro early on. That said, I think in 5 years every player (save Vonleh, maybe) listed above him here will be the better player and I might even say that a guy like Zach LaVine will be as well (and maybe even Elfrid Payton). This is nothing against Smart and like I said if he is the pick I will slot him into the rotation as either a starter or the 1st guard off the bench and a guy who can play 20-25 minutes a night and even close games as a defensive wing in certain match-ups. That has real value. And if he ever finds his range as a shooter I think his ceiling raises exponentially. But as I’ve watched him more, and when taking stock across the league in positions that have talent and what helps win games, I just think the bigs offer more as a foundational player long term.

As I said up top, I don’t know what the Lakers will do with this pick. Even when Magic Johnson and James Worthy were selected by the Lakers with the first pick in their respective drafts, there were viable alternatives that the team was supposedly considering in Sidney Moncrief and Dominique Wilkins. Of course, Magic and Worthy ended up being Lakers and the rest is history. And while I don’t expect whoever is selected by the Lakers at #7 to end up having their number hanging in the rafters one day, the promise of getting a good talent at that spot is intriguing nonetheless.

The draft is less than a week away. Remember that timing when the rumor mill starts to ramp up with trade scenarios that involve any team, including the Lakers. This is the time of the year where everything leaks — front offices, agents, family members — and there is always motive from some party to getting information out into the public.

With all that said, the LA Times is reporting that the Lakers may be more keen on a certain Pacific Division wing player than their number 7 pick in next Thursday’s draft and would be willing to make a clean swap of the two:

The Lakers have been in discussions to acquire Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson for the seventh pick in next week’s draft, The Times has learned.

The deal would be part of a larger three-way trade that sends Minnesota All-Star power forward Kevin Love to the Warriors. The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

First, let’s understand why the Lakers would want to make this deal. They want to win as quickly as possible and acquiring an established player, with experience and success in the league is a way to do that. Thompson fits the bill here. He averaged 18 points a game last season, shot over 40% from behind the arc, and is a versatile defender who Mark Jackson felt comfortable deploying on players ranging from point guard to small forward. In a vacuum, Thompson is the type of asset any team would want to have and is proven enough to be worth a pick in the range the Lakers are drafting.

Saying all that, I would not support this trade in the least bit should it happen.

One of the allures of Thompson, as it is with any young player, is that his production comes at a fixed, inexpensive cost. Thompson is still on his rookie deal and will make $3 million next season after making $2.3 million last season. His production at that salary is what helped allow the Warriors to be such a good team because they could pay him so little while splurging on players like David Lee, Andrew Bogut, and Andgre Iguodala. (As an aside, the same can be said about Steph Curry’s under market contract. After dealing with all those ankle injuries, Curry signed what is now a very team friendly deal well below his max level production.)

Thompson, though, won’t make so little for very long. Going into his 3rd season he’s eligible for an extension this summer. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. The reality is Thompson is about to go from one of the best values in the league to one of the most average ones (or even a bad one) in the span of a season. With the strong possibility Thompson seeks a max or near max on his next contract, he could be making upwards of $12 million a season on his next contract.

In other words, the Lakers would be trading the 7th pick for the right to pay Klay Thompson and do so right at the time that Kobe’s contract would be coming off the books where they would, theoretically, want to make a major splash in free agency.

And this isn’t even getting into whether Thompson is even worth that money. I, personally, don’t think he is. As much as I love his shooting and think his size gives him defensive versatility, he actually reminds me a lot of the Blazers’ Wesley Matthews. I mean, look for yourself. Would you want to pay Matthews $10-12 million a season? I would not. Of course, Matthews is four years older and there’s an a development arc that, at Klay’s age, implies he will improve and continue to get better.

But Thompson’s weak areas — passing, rebounding — are areas that players typically have or they don’t. Can he make a more concerted effort to go the glass or try to see the floor better? Sure, but I don’t expect him to suddenly become a player who is grabbing five to six rebounds a game or a guy handing out four to five assists — numbers in both categories that would basically double his output from last season. This isn’t to knock Thompson. Right now he’s a shooter/scorer and a burgeoning defender — these traits have tremendous value. But he doesn’t do much else; he doesn’t initiate the offense, isn’t particularly adept at handling the ball, and doesn’t stuff the stat-sheet in a variety of ways.

Trading the 7th pick for the right to make the free agency decision on that player? Not something I’d be into at all.

With less than two weeks before the NBA draft, teams continue to bring prospects in for workouts and interviews to get one last look at these players before having to make a final decision on who to select. The Lakers are no different and, after hosting several big name prospects two weeks ago, are bringing in another well known prospect on Tuesday. From Eric Pincus of the LA Times:

The Lakers will work out Kentucky forward Julius Randle on Tuesday in El Segundo at the team’s practice facility.

Randle is a 6-foot-9, 19-year-old power forward who helped the Wildcats advance to the NCAA championship game, before falling to the Connecticut Huskies.

Through 40 games at Kentucky, Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds. The left-handed freshman projects to be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft on June 26.

In several mock drafts, including those from ESPN’s Chad Ford and Draft Express, Randle is the player who ends up going to the Lakers with their 7th selection. So, the fact that the team is bringing him for a workout should not be a surprise. Randle is seen by several analysts as one of the more NBA ready prospects and considering the Lakers are hoping to have a quick turnaround next year, that fact may hold extra weight when it is the Lakers’ turn to make a selection.

Despite a recent report that Randle will need to have foot surgery to remove a screw that was part of an earlier surgery, Randle is still projected to go in the top 10 picks. The procedure is seen as relatively minor and though it will keep him out for most of the summer, he is expected to recover in time to be ready for the start of training camp.

All that said, while Randle was plenty productive at the University of Kentucky, he does have his detractors as a prospect. Due to physical measurements and athleticism that are only average for NBA power forwards, there are questions whether his bullying style will translate to a league where he will no longer be a man among boys physically. He is seen as a player who will need to make adjustments to his style, develop a more consistent jump shot, and learn how to finish around the rim against players who offer more height and length than he saw on a nightly basis while in college.

The flip side to that, however, is that Randle’s dimensions are almost exactly the same as David Lee — a player who matches up quite well with most NBA PF’s physically. Further, Randle’s motor and aggressiveness should help off-set some of his physical limitations. After all, going hard all the time is a skill too and Randle seems to have that in spades.

In any event, after getting up close looks at potential picks Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon, and Doug McDermott the Lakers will now get to see how Randle performs. And while it will not be in a group setting where they can see how he measures up against his peers, they will still get to run him through some drills and get a better sense of who he is as a person. Whether all that adds up to him being the Lakers pick on June 26th remains to be seen, however.

While the Finals are set to resume on Sunday, the Lakers are like every other team not named Heat or Spurs and in full on draft preparation. This past week they held their first large workout which included several players projected to be lottery picks as well as some other prospects who could be available late in the first and into the second round.

For a full list of the guys who attended the workout can be found here, the guys who Lakers’ fans should keep a close eye on are:

  • Marcus Smart, PG
  • Aaron Gordon, F
  • Noah Vonleh, PF
  • Gary Harris, SG
  • Zach LaVine, G
  • Doug McDermott, F
  • Tyler Ennis, PG

Smart, Gordon, and Vonleh are projected to go in the top 7 picks in most mock drafts. Smart and Vonleh are also players who have been projected to go to the Lakers in multiple mocks since the draft order was determined (with initial rumors stating that Vonleh is a guy the Lakers are particularly interested in). McDermott, Ennis, Harris, and Lavine are all slated to go anywhere from picks 8 to 20.

And while it’s nice to speculate, this initial group really offers zero hints towards what the Lakers’ draft plans may be. If anything, this group offers a nice composite for the Lakers to simply gauge how the prospects measure up to each other and whether or not any of the middle-tiered prospects (like Ennis, McDermott, and LaVine) may be worth a gamble at 7 or if a potential trade down would net the Lakers a comparable talent and an additional asset on draft day.

That latter point is something that will gain steam as the Lakers get closer to the draft. Because while I’m fully on board with the Lakers sticking at #7 and drafting the best available player, they would be wise to explore all their options and get the most out of this draft as they can. This would be true even if the team’s pick next summer wasn’t slated to go to the Suns if it fell outside the top 5 picks. Even though this draft is thought to go 8 deep with a talent drop-off after that, there always seems to be a prospect who is picked at the tail end of the lottery or into the teens who ends up being a very good player (Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are recent examples of this). In other words, the Lakers could potentially slide down in the draft even further and net themselves a player who develops nicely while netting an additional player or pick that ends up contributing to more wins.

Whether that will be their strategy or not isn’t known, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Especially as they workout players who would be reaches at 7, but would be solid picks in the 10 to 20 range. And including these players in workouts with prospects considered to be better at this point in order to watch them compete and get a better gauge in how they compare only aids in that process.

Much like their coaching search, the Lakers look like they will also cast a wide net when evaluating prospects for the draft. And just like that other search, the more information they can get to make the best decision, the better.

Earlier we wondered how lucky the Lakers would be in the draft lottery.

Seems the answer is, based on your perspective, that their luck on Tuesday night was either slightly bad or neutral as the slid down a spot from their slotted 6th position to settle into the 7th selection in next month’s NBA draft. (As an aside, I don’t think you can argue they were unlucky considering the second most likely spot they would pick at was 7th and that’s exactly where they will pick. But I digress.)

Regardless of what is said in the aftermath, this is not the “worst case scenario” for the Lakers (that would have been falling to 9th). In fact, it’s not even that bad a spot to be in.

Most pundits would tell you that this draft, like every other, has talent that falls into tiers. The very top tier consists of 3 players — Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker. The next player on most draft boards is Dante Exum, a player who is the most intriguing prospect and has a high ceiling, but also someone we don’t know much about due to him being from Australia and not playing in a major European league. So, lets slot him in his own tier right below the aforementioned big three.

The next tier, however, is about four players deep and consists of Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon, and Julius Randle. If the top four picks go as expected, at least one of these players will be available when the Lakers pick. Any of these players would instantly help a talent barren Lakers’ roster that only has 3 players under contract heading into free agency.

Of course we are early in the process. Player ranks are subject to change and are sure to fluctuate as guys go into their individual and group workouts. By the time we actually get to the draft, who knows how those workouts, agent maneuvering, team needs, and several other variables will shape draft boards of all the teams — including the Lakers’.

What we do know, though, is that the Lakers are very likely to have more than one very good player available when they pick. Will it be one of those top two to four players we all lusted after just 12 hours ago? Probably not. But it will be someone who has a chance to come in, compete for a rotation spot and, through hard work and proper development be a high level contributor for years to come for this franchise.

That, more than anything else, is my takeaway from tonight.

With Kobe and Nash the Lakers have name recognition and with Robert Sacre (and, if his contract option is picked up, Kendall Marshall) they have a young player who will work hard and fight for a rotation spot. But beyond those players, they are a blank slate. They need talent and especially young, athletic talent. The players likely to be available when the Lakers pick should be both young and talented. If they are also smart, hard working, and willing to take in some of what Kobe and Nash (and other veterans the team is likely to sign) have to offer in terms of experience and how to be a professional in this league, they can grow into the type of player we will all be proud to root for.

Time will tell what happens with this pick, but I’d be lying if I said I weren’t excited. The Lakers need good players and whoever they draft has an opportunity to be one.