In our most recent podcast, Pete and I discussed the current Lakers team through the prism of the playoffs. High stakes basketball, with refined gameplans and laser focus on exploiting any available weakness, expose the flaws of a team and offer a final determination on whether their strengths are enough to overcome them.
The Lakers are a flawed team. Mostly because they are young. But like a teenager who talks back to their parents with the arrogance of knowledge not yet attained through learned life lessons, youth is also a flaw. Experience comes with time, though, just as it sharpens skills. The question, then, becomes which skills, no matter the time to grow them, will never emerge?
Answering that question successfully by making that list as small as possible is the goal of team building.
When discussing the Lakers, most will pivot quickly to free agency as the fix for roster shortcomings. What’s that, you want an all-purpose wing who plays both ends? Come on down, Paul George! You want a generational talent who can become the crux of your team’s offensive sets and present the ultimate matchup breaker? Hello there, LeBron James!
We know, though, that things don’t often work out this way. The Lakers need to control what they can and the one area where they have that ability is the draft. The team holds two picks in this month’s amateur player easter egg hunt and addressing some of their current skill deficiencies should be a priority.
In the past we have looked at the Lakers roster construction through the construct of a skills venn diagram. While this sort of matrix is still relevant and should serve as a guide for the overall archetype of player the team wants, the Lakers have done a good job of accumulating young talent which check off these boxes. In Lonzo, Ingram, Randle, Kuzma, and Hart the team has a wonderful mix of players who can shoot, pass, and defend (and some do all 3).
So while the team can always use more of these types (every team can — even the Warriors), I think it’s also important to get even more specific and narrow the focus onto a key skill or two which is currently lacking entirely on the current roster and see if a guy who excels in that area can be nabbed in the draft.
Like what skills, you might ask? Well, here’s a few:
- A lob threat of a big man.
- A wing with individual shot creation skill.
- A defensive minded point guard who is adept at getting the team into their sets.
Let’s work backwards. The Lakers are thin at point guard behind Lonzo Ball and could really use another ball handler who can run the team’s sets on one end and defend the point of attack on the other.
Brandon Ingram played a lot of backup point this season and acquitted himself well enough. I don’t want to take the ball out of his hands, necessarily. But I do think it’s important, especially as these players grow, to have another player who can organize the team offensively while not compromising the defense. Tyler Ennis is not that player. And while Ingram can do the offensive part, his best trait as a defensive PG is that he can switch ball screens effectively. The Lakers need someone who can fight through screens, pressure the ball, and enhance their goal of creating chaotic defensive possessions.
Potential draft options: De’Anthony Melton, Jevon Carter
The Lakers are growing (or at least trying to grow) the habits of a ball-sharing team that will rely on their system to create baskets in the halfcourt. Yes, they can create in the P&R with Lonzo and Ingram as trigger-men. And Ingram and Randle can be isolation scorers — with Kuzma showing really good potential as well. But beyond those three, you’d be hard pressed to find another wing on the team who can simply go get a basket in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford/Nick Young mold.
This isn’t a crucial skill in the big picture, necessarily. But as the playoffs have shown, as defenses switch more often and gum up offensive sets which rely heavily on screens, cuts, and general off-ball movement, sometimes you need a guy who can simply create something in isolation against whatever defender type is in front of him. So, if one is on the board and represents good value, the Lakers would be wise to take a hard look at one.
The problem may just be that the guys who actually have this skill in their bag end up being point guards or guys who lack size and/or defensive ability — qualities the Lakers really value.
Potential draft options: Donte Divincenzo, Aaron Holiday, Jerome Robinson, Malik Newman
When looking at the Lakers big men this year, one skill was notably absent: they had no one who threatened the vertical plane; no one who was a lob threat in the P&R. Think DeAndre Jordan or Clint Capela or Rudy Gobert. As we watch the Finals unfold — even look at JaVale McGee.
These players, even if not the most polished offensive players as individual scorers, offer value — sometimes elite value — as guys who simply set a good screen, get down hill on their roll, and then jump to the top of the square to throw down a lob. They create gravity by drawing extra defensive attention in the paint, which opens up perimeter space for 3-point shooters or players adept at attacking closeouts off the dribble.
The Lakers have the latter — Kuzma, Ingram, Lonzo, and Hart have all shown skill as spot up options and players who feast on drives vs. hard closeouts. What they do not have is the first part. Julius Randle is a fine P&R option, but more as a short roll option or someone who dives into positions to post up. Lopez is a pick and pop guy. Zubac has the length to finish above the rim, but not the burst or athleticism to consistently get to and then climb the ladder.
So, nabbing a guy like this in the draft would be useful.
Potential draft options: Mitchell Robinson, Chimezie Metu
There are, of course, alternatives to all this. The Lakers can target “3-and-D” guys, draft another PF, draft and stash a Euro prospect, or even trade the pick entirely as part of a larger scheme. Or, you know, there’s always simply taking the best available player — regardless of skill-set or position.
Some might even argue the Lakers don’t actually need any more young players on the roster so, finding a taker for the pick or using it on a guy who won’t be on the team next year really are better options.
But recent history also tells us the Lakers have been fairly successful nabbing viable rotation players from the exact spots in the draft where they’ll be selecting later this month. And if they do keep the pick, and if history holds, it would be nice if they helped fill some of current holes in their roster.