LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 28: Casper Ware #22 of the Long Beach State 49ers dribbles the ball during the game while defended by Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals during the game at KFC YUM! Center on November 28, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As a Laker fan, it is rather hard to get excited about the draft. This is a team that hasn't picked in the lottery since 2005, gives away picks like candy to grease trades, and most of all, has no stomach for giving out unnecessary guaranteed salaries during a time when cost cutting is the principal concern. It is especially sad since Mitch Kupchak has been a rather good drafter these past few years and giving him a limited toolkit with which to work with in the draft is wasting his talents in a fashion. This isn't to say that most of the deals the Lakers have been with regards to the draft weren't justified, however. Their two picks this year netted them Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, both of whom were important contributors, are young and can continue to develop should they stay with the team, and perhaps most importantly, are likely better than the players they would have drafted at those positions anyway.
Still, it leaves the Lakers in the unfortunate position of having only one pick in the draft: the sixtieth. Yes, the last pick of the second round. Naturally, the possibility of finding a contributor at that spot is highly unlikely, as deep as the 2012 draft has been called, if not in star power then in serviceable players. On one hand, it saves yours truly the burden of having to write an eleven thousand word monstrosity such as last year's draft primer. For the Lakers, unfortunately, it means that they can quench any significant optimism at finding a diamond in the rough. Nevertheless, it behooves us to examine what is available where the Lakers are picking and provide some implications should they think to move higher in the draft.
First, we should evaluate whether the Lakers actually got good value for the picks in Sessions and Hill. The best of a weak class of point guards are Weber State's Damian Lillard and UNC's Kendall Marshall, and both are projected to go in the lottery, so this is largely a moot point. Kentucky's Marquis Teague or Washington's Tony Wroten aren't better solutions than Sessions, or at least, not out of the gate. Similarly, Jordan Hill was a lottery pick all of three years ago and no one can claim that he is remotely close to his ceiling either. It is doubtful that someone like St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson would have been a better choice for beefing up the frontcourt at the end of the first round. As such, in terms of immediate help, which is central to the Lakers' concerns if they are giving a guaranteed salary to a player, there are few options that could be considered better than Sessions or Hill.
Of course, this does not preclude the possibility that the Lakers might move up and acquire a pick, although the aforementioned unwillingness to give out guaranteed salaries likely precludes a trade for a first rounder. Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy reported about a month ago that the Lakers might be interested in acquiring another second rounder, which is a fairly reasonable proposition. The most likely scenario is that the Lakers simply pony up cold hard cash for an additional pick, and while the going rate on second round picks varies depending on where in the round you are looking at, it usually is around $1-1.5 million. Alternatively, the team could deal one of their smaller salaries in Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris or Andrew Goudelock, but this depends greatly on how other teams value them and whether the Lakers see a prospect available they like more than the developmental projects currently on the team.
Finally, since Pau Gasol trade scenarios are in vogue right now, let us shoot down the possibility that he will be dealt for a high lottery pick. Charlotte, for instance, is shopping their number two pick after failing to win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes and that alone should tell you the talent disparity between him and the players coming after him. In no particular order, the general consensus among most draft experts (read: the excellent Draft Express and ESPN's Chad Ford) is that the next best group of prospects are Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Florida's Bradley Beal, Kansas' Thomas Robinson, Connecticut's Andre Drummond, and UNC's Harrison Barnes. All of them have far more question marks than Davis, who is a shoo-in to have a good, if not great career. First, let us dismiss Drummond and Beal, both of whom play at the same positions as Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant respectively. Kidd-Gilchrist has to fix a broken jumper and a so-so handle, but as anyone who watched him at Kentucky can attest to, he just plays the game well to put it simply. Between his crazy motor, solid athleticism and good defensive tools, he could be very, very good...if allowed to develop, which the Lakers don't exactly have the time to accommodate. Robinson looks like a solid prospect at the four and graded out well athletically at the combine, but it is doubtful whether he is going to reach Pau's level anytime soon.
Ironically, the guy who could help the Lakers immediately is Harrison Barnes, likely the worst of the above prospects with the possible exception of Drummond. Barnes' so-so play at UNC deflated a lot of the Kobe Bryant comparisons he got out of high school, but he tested very well at the combine and brings the combination of athleticism, shooting, and defensive ability the Lakers desperately need at the three. The problem is that he projects now as the next Danny Granger rather than a future superstar, although it is not out of the realm of possibility that he reaches the latter plateau. The problem in all of this is that the Lakers aren't dealing Pau just to get Barnes, and you will have a tough time finding a team in the top five picks willing to surrender (1) their own lottery pick, (2) another decent young prospect at a position of need, and (3) a replacement four for Pau and whatever other pu pu platter the Lakers can scrounge up. Granted, the Lakers could try to flip a top five pick afterwards to net some assets they couldn't get for Gasol straight-up (Kyle Lowry?), but that just adds another dimension of complexity that is impossible to predict.
This is likely why we have received reports from Fox Sports' Sam Amico about the Lakers aiming lower in the first round at Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. We explored the logistics of what such a trade would entail in a previous piece, namely that it is difficult to see how the Lakers will go about getting into the middle of the first round. That aside, let us cover both prospects to see what exactly the Lakers will be getting and to provide a guidepost if the Lakers do manage to snag one of them on draft night:
Perry Jones III
Baylor (So.): 20 y/o, 30.7 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 50.0 FG%, 30.3 3P%, 69.6 FT%
6'11.25'' in shoes, 234 lbs, 7'1.75'' wingspan, 38.5 vertical, 11 bench reps, 11.31 lane agility, 3.19 sprint
If you saw Jones' highlight reel, you would wonder why exactly he isn't slotted to go second or third in the draft. He is simply an athletic specimen with gobs of talent and huge potential. He handles the ball well, can shoot from range, and blast by any defender unfortunate enough to have him dribbling against them from the perimeter. The problem, as is wont to happen with prospects like these, is his motor. Jones consistently looked disengaged while at Baylor and never seemed as if he was giving an effort level commensurate with his immense talent. General managers don't know whether he will be able to translate his gifts into real production on the court or not. He is a prospect that terrifies you for both the prospect of skipping on a potential superstar and grabbing a massive bust.
Now, for the Lakers' purposes, this is a bit of a lesser concern. They don't need Jones to be a lead option, but rather to complement the stars that are already present, and assuming Gasol is dealt somewhere, Jones would be the kind of player you want to pair with a huge post presence like Bynum. As of now, Jones projects to go in the late lottery to the mid-first round, and any trade that netted the Lakers a pick in that range would almost invariably have to include Gasol in the context of a larger deal.
Baylor (Fr.): 19 y/o, 24.4 mpg, 10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, 44.7 FG%, 34.8 3P%, 81.6 FT%
6'10'' in shoes, 219 lbs, 7'1.25'' wingspan, 36.0 vertical, 8 bench reps, 11.05 lane agility, 3.48 sprint
Miller is basically another version of Jones with less athleticism and size, but a motor that runs much harder. An ACL injury he suffered in high school and being somewhat redundant with Jones resulted in a rather mediocre freshman campaign, although common parlance is that it takes two years to fully recover after an injury such as the one Miller suffered. Miller's game largely revolves around the fact that he can get his jumper off at will against most defenders because of his size and deft dribbling ability. He looks very fluid in motion with the ball and is one the guys who can rebound the ball and effortlessly take it coast to coast.
Indeed, sans the ACL injury, Miller would likely be a top ten pick, but iffy medical reports have sent him into the 20s in the draft. For much of the same reasons the Lakers would want Jones, however, Miller brings a dynamic perimeter presence that could greatly help the Lakers' offense, although he is only nineteen years old and will need time to fill out his frame and put on some strength to function as a good NBA defender. Still, he is a pretty solid prospect altogether and if the Lakers could get him without sacrificing major assets, it would be a significant boon to the team.
Aside from Jones and Miller, Amico, who has made himself into the go-to source for Lakers' draft rumors this past week, notes that the Lakers would also target Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague with a late first rounder if they fail to get Miller. As such, let us review:
Kentucky (Fr.): 19 y/o, 32.6 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, 41.2 FG%, 32.5 3P%, 71.4 FT%
6'2'' in shoes, 180 lbs, 6'7.25'' wingspan, 40.5 vertical, 8 bench reps, 10.65 lane agility, 3.19 sprint
At this point, we can see the common theme in the Lakers' targets: they want dynamic, super athletic guys who can shore up what has become a very stagnant perimeter game. Teague fits that description insofar that he is a great athlete for a point guard, ranking among the best in every athletic test at the combine and beating his brother Jeff Teague, an athletic point in his own right, in several categories. The problem, or why we are even discussing Teague as a possibility in the late 20s instead of a top ten pick, is that his game is far behind where his athletic gifts are at the moment. To put it mildly, Teague was rather mediocre for a good portion of his freshman season until the tournament, consistently looking out of control, turnover prone, and especially weak in the halfcourt game. His jumper has an irritating hitch that lowers his accuracy from range and overall, he still has a good deal of development to do.
Now, the stylistic differences between the NBA and college game do help Teague, particularly in the pick-and-roll, a method through which he should be able to successfully attack defenses for his entire career. Guards who can turn the corner on a pick and blast towards the rim or stop and a dime and pull up for a jumper are simply always in demand. The issue is getting Teague's jumper, floater and court vision in general up to par such that he can put his athletic gifts to good use. He was one of the most heralded players coming out of high school for a reason, after all, and would be an ironclad lock for the lottery had he stayed at Kentucky.
Getting Teague doesn't necessarily change the calculus on the Lakers' point guard search in the summer, as keeping him in a backup position would be beneficial for his development. It would, however, signal the end of the Darius Morris experiment and put Andrew Goudelock into a precarious position as a shooting specialist without a position. For a prospect such as Teague, however, it would be a worthy trade.
Now, for the Lakers' second rounder, it essentially is pointless to make a prediction of any sort because the Lakers can go in any direction imaginable with the pick. It is likely that they make a throwaway pick like last year (cough) Ater Majok (cough) and/or look for a foreign prospect they can stick in Europe for a few years. While one always wants to look for the next Isaiah Thomas, the Mr. Irrelevant of last year's draft, the chances are much more likely that you are looking at a bunch of scrubs who have little to no chance of making the league. Nevertheless, let us review one prospect who likely will be available at the end of the second and whom yours truly has taken a liking to:
Long Beach State (Sr.): 22 y/o, 33.7 mpg, 17.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 40.1 FG%, 35.6 3P%, 79.3 FT%
5'10.5'' in shoes, 177 lbs, 5'11.25'' wingspan, 38.3 vertical, 15 bench reps, 10.42 lane agility, 3.15 sprint
You long-time readers will recall that I really liked Isaiah Thomas during last year's draft. His size did not obscure the fact that he was a decent athlete, could shoot the ball well, and had good court vision, all things that supposedly made him a good choice at the same pick the Lakers took Darius Morris at. Granted, we still have to see how Morris pans out before making a judgment call one way or another, but Thomas was a significant contributor last season for the Kings and no doubt a factor in their current willingness to offload Tyreke Evans for a big to pair next to DeMarcus Cousins.
Obviously, the parallels between Thomas and Ware are pretty strong in this case. Ware tested decently athletically and showed it in college as the main option for Long Beach State. He has good mechanics on his jumper, can get it off at any time off the dribble and can go up just as easily on a dime from midrange as from behind the arc. Something Mike Brown will appreciate is Ware's incessant defense, as he used his quickness very well to badger and pressure opposing guards and his quickness should translate into the league. His size will always leave him at a disadvantage near the rim and against bigger guards, but at the end of the second round, you could do a lot worse than a competitor like Ware.
So, there you have it. The Lakers could very well go through the draft without a trading partner to get any higher than sixty, but should anything arise, the names and make of their draft targets are fairly clear. The team's goals of simultaneously downsizing the payroll and increasing the overall athleticism of the team is a difficult task even under the best of circumstances, but the best way to do so is through the draft, and undoubtedly, the front office is doing their best to see such a thing happen.
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