A Draft Primer: Analysing the Lakers' Potential Picks

kupchak02

In a matter of three hours. the NBA draft will commence. The Lakers' first pick, however, will likely not occur until a further hour from then. The Lakers do not possess a first-round pick this year, having swapped it with Memphis for a second-round pick in the Pau Gasol trade, but do possess two second-rounders, Memphis's at #43 and their own at #57. Now, the Lakers have several holes to fill, with big-man depth and the search for a decent point guard to spell Derek Fisher during the regular season being the primary concerns.

These holes are compounded by Laker ownership's presumed reluctance to spend money in upgrading the roster this offseason, instead leaning towards letting several role-players walk and opting to replace them with cheaper and generally worse players, such as those acquired through the draft. However, the Lakers, as Dex noted earlier today, have got their core pretty much set:

This isn't going to be a transformational offseason for the Lakers' roster. Seven players are already under contract for next year: Kobe Bryant, Pau, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. I think we can safely stipulate that Derek Fisher will soon make it eight. 

Considering Kobe's respect and fondness for Josh Powell, I do think he'll be back as a big man off the bench (unless the Lakers do ultimately decide to spend and pick up a veteran free agent), giving them a core nine-man rotation that likely will not be expanded outside of garbage time, meaning that essentially any draft picks chosen will likely solely serve as warm bodies for practise.

In the end, the picks still need to be made, and late second-rounders are cheaper than most minimum contracts, and therefore cheap ways to fill up numbers to the league-minimum 13 players, and if Los Angeles is going to be picking they may as well pick well. There's rarely ever any talent worthy of playing time on a championship contender available late in the second round, but there are ways to shore up depth at key positions.

Point Guards

At point, names such as Greivis Vasquez, Jon Scheyer and Alexey Shved have been floated. 

Vasquez is a long, 6'6" combo-guard with a 6'7" wingspan - seemingly a classic Triangle point guard. Vasquez has been getting much love from Dime magazine for being the only player in ACC history to total 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 600 assists in his college career and seems like a decent player. He's shown an ability to perform in the clutch and has been able to lead a team. I'll let Dime sum it up:

Vasquez led a team of widely unproven talent to another NCAA tournament. In an overtime win against then-#3 North Carolina, Vasquez went off for a triple double (35 points, 11 boards, 10 dimes), the first of its kind in Maryland in over 20 years. There was his 33-point showing at N.C. State in a crucial conference victory. And after leading his team to the postseason, Vasquez posted 27 points in a first-round tourney win over Cal. 

...

By the end of his senior season, the legend of Greivis Vasquez was forever sealed on the College Park campus. Awarded the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard and named ACC Player of the Year, Vasquez finished the season with a 19.6-point and 6.3-assist average. He scored his 2,000th point as a senior, putting the finishing touches on a brilliant career by once again leading his team to the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 21 points per game in the team’s two tourney games. And after four years of hard work, Vasquez had finally earned the recognition he deserved as the best player in arguably the best conference in the country.

Sounds good, until one takes into account that on the Lakers he will never have the ball in his hands often enough to perform like that, and will certainly not be a leader. It's also important that he's an average long-distance shooter at best, shooting at a career-high 36% from NCAA three in his senior season. His athleticism is lacking and hurts him on the defensive end, too. As nbadraft.net states:

Can be very erratic with the ball and with his passing (taking way too many risks)... Shoots a slight set shot, which takes longer to release and allows the defense to recover ... Not a great shooter off the dribble, does not have great rhythm and elevation, which is the cause of inconsistent results from midrange ... Does not project well as a defender at the next level, lacks the lateral quickness and does not put forward much of an effort on that end ... Will have a hard time containing either guard position off the dribble … Is an arrogant player, which is sometimes a positive, but he needs to learn to control his emotions and not cross the line …

All of the above are major alarm bells and suggest that Vasquez could have issues fitting in with the Lakers. Los Angeles's primary need at the point guard position is a player who can shoot the longball well, defend adequately and accept his role within the team, all of which it seems Vasquez could struggle with. It's also unlikely that Vasquez falls as low at #43, considering that some have him going as high as the top 20, and SBNation's own Ben Q. Rock of the Orlando Pinstriped Post is picking Vasquez for the Magic at #29 in SBNation's mock draft.

The next name on the list is former Duke starting point guard and NCAA tournament champion Jonathan James 'Jon' Scheyer. A senior last year, like Vasquez, Scheyer possesses many of the same qualities as Vasquez in that he is large for a lead guard at 6'5" (though he lacks length, with a 6'3" wingspan) and possesses questionable athleticism that makes many NBA scouts doubt his ability to be an effective defender at the pro level. What Scheyer possesses that Vasquez lacks, however, is best described by Draft Express (written before his senior season):

Defensively, Scheyer’s savvy and anticipation help him make an impact on the college level, but aren’t as advantageous from a NBA perspective... Showing excellent fundamentals, a high effort level, and outstanding awareness in the passing lanes.

Granted, simultaneously Draft Express asserts that his lack of athleticism and lateral quickness projects him to be a poor defender on the NBA level. It still seems he would perform better on that end of the floor than Vasquez.

Scheyer also fills a role on offense better than Vasquez would, making his living as a spot-up shooter with a quick release, and shooting 38% from NCAA three last season (a clip similar to his career average) on a high volume of long-distance shots. Again from DE:

A very capable perimeter scorer, Scheyer’s best asset for the next level is his shooting stroke. Nearly half of the shots he attempted last season were catch and shoot jumpers, regardless of whether they were coming from spot up situations or from running off of screens.

Scheyer is used to sharing the ball from his days as part of the Duke 'Big Three', and used to playing off-ball as Duke would often have Nolan Smith bring the ball up and then make an initial entry pass to Brian Zoubek to initiate the offense. Most of all, Scheyer is coming off a season as the co-captain of a championship-winning team, and knows the attitude required to win. No late second-rounder is going to get heavy minutes on a championship team, but Scheyer seems the type to accept his role and act like a professional in doing so.

Scheyer is known to have an  extremely high basketball IQ, and that would likely translate to being able to pick up the Triangle offense at a fast rate. 

Scheyer's statistics were comparable to Vasquez's, with the Duke prospect averaging 18.3/4.9 at 38% from deep and an impressive 2.98 assist-to-turnover ratio opposed to Vasquez's 19.6/6.3 whilst dominating the ball more and possessing a far more pedestrian 1.87 A/T. Most important, Scheyer seems to be valued less due to his negative physical attributes, and is almost certain to be available at #43 and even possibly at #57.

These two point guards are far and away the preferred draft options at that position, but there is the possibility that Vasquez goes early and the Lakers opt to take a big man to fill up bodies with the #43 pick and Scheyer is taken before #57, in which case Alexey Shved is a possible pick.

A Euroleague player for Dynamo Mosc ow, very little is known about Alexey Shved. In fact, Draft Express may have said it best:

Russian guard Alexey Shved has been on the NBA draft radar for what seems like forever now, but he is still quite an obscure prospect compared to his American counterparts.

What is known is that Shved is a point guard with a lot of potential. Possessing speed and athleticism, as well as uncanny court vision and creative passwork, Shved has been likened to Penny Hardaway and Shaun Livingston, in that he is another lanky long point guard, though the talk of his passwork sounds more like Ricky Rubio.

I'm just going to let nbadraft.net handle this one:

Strengths: A 6-7 natural point guard with immense upside ... A real competitor, also very smart. Charismatic ... Really has a great feel for the game at a young age ... Has it all offensively with the ability to shoot off the dribble with range as well as take it to the basket ... Tremendous passer and ball handler ... Has a nasty crossover and handles the ball well against the quickest of defenders ... Makes the game look very easy ... Creates baskets for his teammates and makes those around him better ... Very bouncy, good leaper with huge wingspan ... Looks very young. Could still be growing ... Has huge hands giving him added control over the ball ... Applies himself defensively and shows good instincts staying in front of his man and not biting on fakes ... One of the top overall prospects in all of Europe ... 

Weaknesses: His frame is very long but his shoulders are narrow and he is very skinny ... May never be a very strong player, but as a point guard, that's less important ... Added strength will allow him to drive to the basket and absorb contact better ... He'll also be able to use his size better on the boards ... Being from Russia, he has some hurdles to cross as a number of recent Russian players (besides AK47) have struggled to make the transition to the NBA/USA culture ... 

In short, Shved seems like a player with great potential, but it seems highly doubtful that he would be able to contribute immediately. Possessing an extremely slight frame, being nearly 6'7" yet only weighing an amount reported between 161 and 178 pounds, it seems unlikely that he would be able to effectively play at an NBA level yet.

When factoring in the culture shock and youth (Shved is 21 but seems younger physically), it seems that while Shved may be able to contribute significantly given two or three more years to develop in Europe, preferably for a stronger club, immediate contribution is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, his sheer potential means that if a point guard that can contribute immediately is obtained through free agency, trade or earlier on in the draft, Shved should certainly be picked and stashed away in Europe for a few years.

And there's one more option at point guard: Harvard Crimson senior Jeremy Lin. One of the top high school players in California in his senior year of high school, Lin was largely overlooked by major basketball institutions before deciding to attend Harvard for a four-year college career that did not feature a single NCAA tournament berth, but did feature him being a finalist for both the Wooden (best college player) and Cousy (best college point guard) aAards in his senior season.

Lin averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds in his senior year, to go with 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, all on 51.9% from the field, 34.1% from deep and 75.5% from the line. Lin is not an exceptional shooter. Rather, the 6'3" guard is more of an athletic leaper, being praised as ridiculously quick and athletic. A quote from SLAM Online referring to the Harvard/Boston College game last season:

The biggest compliment paid that evening was from Tyrese Rice (now playing professionally in Greece) toward Jeremy Lin. Whenever Rice faced Lin on the defensive end, he stayed 3-4 feet off Lin the entire game -– true testament to Rice respecting Lin’s quickness. This respect for Lin’s quickness is quite deserved. Lin has slashed his way through the middle and dunked on unsuspecting defenders who chose to layoff him defensively in the past. 

There is also another excellent SLAM Online article written about Jeremy Lin this season, solely debating whether or not Lin could make it on the pro level. The article, here, is based primarily off a game of Lin's scouted by SLAM journalist Colin Powers, who makes observations such as:

Lin played off the ball for most of the game, a curious decision by Coach Tommy Amaker given that he is clearly Harvard’s best option to break down the defense off the dribble... when Lin did get the ball in a position to do something with it, three times he calmly caught the ball of a screen before using his quick first step and immediately sweeping low and exploding past his man baseline... [he] did not usually have a difficult time shedding his one on one defender. He showed impressive strength and confidence around the basket, challenging bigger men to get a bucket or a trip to the free-throw line (for the season, he took 190 FTs in 28 games). Also, on those few occasions when Lin received an outlet off a Princeton miss and directly took the lead in Harvard’s transition game, he displayed his point-guard acumen and vision to find the best shot available off the break.

Lin was also fairly active on defense and did a quality job of denying his man the ball and staying in front when matched up. Additionally, his help-side positioning was fairly sound throughout the evening, and his hands were consistently active around the ball.

...number of holes in Lin’s game... seemed very passive at times and never fully imposed his will on the run of play. He drifted a lot on offense, catching and moving the ball to the next man without really looking to challenge the defense. Lin needed to be getting into the lane all night for Harvard to be dangerous, but for the most part, he seemed content to blend in... Lin was far from dominant out there. Furthermore, when he did look to penetrate, twice Lin left his feet without knowing where he was going with the ball, turning the ball over and leading to Princeton run-outs (and was also lazy on a few post entry passes).

Another major worry for me is his jumpshot. Though he has compiled pretty solid percentages this season (35% 3FG, 52% FG), his mechanics are less than ideal. His release point is almost behind his head, requiring him to cock the ball back and slowing the whole process down a bit. 

In essence, Lin seems to be a player with tremendous athletic potential but is not consistently assertive on offense (probably a good thing, if he were playing with the Lakers). His style of play as a dribble-penetrator and slasher would serve well within the Laker offense, particularly with the bench unit, and his seeming ability to work without demanding the ball also is positive. He did make some amateur mistakes, but that is to be expected from a late pick.

Worrying, however, is that fact he actually regressed statistically from his junior to senior years, a rare warning sign in a player. In his junior year, he put up 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 4.3 apg, compared to 16.4/4.4/4.4 for his senior year. However, his points per shot increased from 1.5 to 1.66 despite a drop in 3pt% from 40% to 35.5%, his field goal percentage showed a slight increase and his A/T ratio went from an ugly 1.12 to a simply mediocre 1.43, showing that his regression in stats was likely more due to reduced minutes than anything else, and that he was actually more efficient (not to mention his blocks per game rose from 0.6 to 1.1, a ridiculous number for a 6'3" guard, even in the Ivy League).

More worrying than any of that is his jumpshot. The Lakers need more jump shooters to spread the floor, and Lin does not fill that role. However, slashers are also needed. Lin would certainly be an interesting pick to make at #57. He has been interviewed and participated in workouts with the Thunder, Mavericks, Knicks, Spurs, Grizzlies, Warriors, Raptors and... the Los Angeles Lakers. He's probably not worth taking over Scheyer at #43, just on the issue of fit, but definitely worth a look if Scheyer and Vasquez are not available, or at #57.

Big Men

Of course, the Lakers also wouldn't mind a big man through the draft to be the 13th man, in a DJ Mbenga role for half the price of DJ.  In this avenue, one player who would likely be available at #43 is Duke center Brian Zoubek (though there have been whisperings of New York taking him with either their 38th or 39th pick).

Zoubek led the NCAA in offensive rebounds per 40 minutes with a ridiculous 7.8. That's just on the offensive end, people. He was an excellent overall rebounder, averaging 7.7 total boards for the season in only 18.7 minutes of playing time, to go with 5.6 points on 64% from the field.

He was even better in the NCAA tournament, being one of Duke's key cogs in initiating their zone-breaker offense and averaging 7.7 points (on 72% shooting), two assists and 10 rebounds per game in around 24 minutes a contest, sharing playing time at the big man spots with the Plumlee brothers.

To return to Draft Express:

The country’s most dominant offensive rebounder on a per-minute basis, Zoubek played as important a role as any player in Duke’s journey to a national championship.

Zoubek served as an efficient cog in Duke’s offense, doing a lot of little things to open things up for his teammates. Most of Duke’s halfcourt sets started with Zoubek setting a screen at the top of the key, something he does as well as anyone because of his massive frame, high motor, and great strength.

Zoubek also passes well out of the high post. Duke’s offense frequently went through him on quick ball reversals, where he did an effective job finding the open man at the 3-point line.

Off screens, Zoubek was occasionally featured in pick-and-rolls, but his potential is severely limited here due to his lack of athleticism. He struggles to get off the floor, making his rolls to the basket a bit awkward, especially when dealing with weakside help.

Where Zoubek does his best work offensively is by simply crashing the glass. He’s as dominant an offensive rebounder as any NCAA player in the past decade, save DeJuan Blair. . . .

In the post, Zoubek has a reliable right-handed hook shot off his left shoulder in space, but not much beyond that. His moves are mechanical and his footwork is crude. He frequently gets into trouble when rushed or double teamed. He also struggles heavily when turning off his right shoulder. He gets flustered more easily in that position and does not have a go-to move there.

On the other end of the floor, Zoubek is similarly an excellent defensive rebounder, but not quite as dominant as on the offensive end. He does a good job in man-to-man defense in the post, using his strong base and great length to force opponents into tough shots. He has a good fundamental base and moves his feet decently, though he’s still prone to getting beat by quick lateral moves. In spite of his good footwork, he’s still awfully slow.

Zoubek is also incredibly foul prone, something that often hinders his playing time. He commits a foul every 5 minutes he’s on the floor on average, which is part of the reason he only played 19 minutes per game.

On the perimeter, Zoubek looks like a fish out of water. He actually has surprisingly good fundamentals here, but his lateral quickness is awful and he shows no ability to change directions. He does do a good job of staying in the play when beat, though, using his length to contest from behind in the lane.

On pick-and-rolls, Zoubek has similar problems. His inability to change direction forces him to rely heavily on extremely aggressive hedges on the ball handler. Coach K did a good job of hiding this in his defensive scheme, but it was still prone to being exploited, as seen in the national championship game.

Best of all, Zoubek is 7'1", 260 pounds, a true big man. But as Draft Express states, he is woefully unathletic and would be abused on screen-and-rolls, which is already a weakness of LA's. His propensity to foul would not be an issue, as his minutes would be extremely limited, but quite frankly I don't see Zoubek as being any better than Mbenga, though his late-second-round contract would be about half as much as Mbenga's pay.

Nonetheless, if the Lakers are truly looking to let Mbenga go, and aren't aiming to pick up a good big man through free agency (though they have been reported to be seeking one with the veteran's minimum), Zoubek may be their best bet, likely at #43 as he'd be gone by #57. Personally, I wouldn't agree with the pick over a point guard.

In the end, it's unlikely that anyone Los Angeles picks will ever get significant playing time. It seems that the only reason the picks haven't been sold is because Los Angeles needs to have 13 players on the roster and second-rounders are cheaper than virtually any other contract. The Lakers need depth at the point guard position, but a #43 or #57 pick is not a likely place to find it. It's more likely that Sasha takes all the backup lead guard duties while the picks don't get off the bench except for taco-earning minutes. A fourth (fifth, if Powell stays) big man is likely never going to get minutes anyway, coming in behind Gasol, Bynum and Odom, and as such using a draft pick may be worthwhile, though it wouldn't offer any discernible benefit over Mbenga asides from saving some money.

Nonetheless, the Lakers themselves have appreciated the importance of having tough, professional reserves to train against to improve, such as Josh Powell, and drafting good players is a must. Personally, I'd lean towards re-signing Mbenga, taking Scheyer at #43 and Shved at #57, stashing Shved away in Europe as a future prospect, but that would also rely on re-signing Shannon Brown or signing another guard who can actually play in order to have adequate guard depth, or relying on Scheyer to produce in approximately 10 minutes of run per game.

Mitch Kupchak, you've got work to do.

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