Our roundtable was tasked with singling out their least favorite prospect in the team's range. The answer?
The Los Angeles Lakers are locked into the seventh-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Last week we gave our immediate reactions to the Lakers dropping one spot and were mostly in agreement that the team is still in great position to land an impact player. Now, it's time to sort out who we want the Lakers to stay away from on draft night.
Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh and Marcus Smart. These are the names you've read over and over in the last week, and will continue to see until the Lakers draft choice goes official. There are other players who will also be on the Lakers' radar, like National Player of the Year Doug McDermott and likely other prospects who will wiggle their way onto the team's big board over the coming weeks. Interviews, private workouts and smoke screens await us for the next month. Current mock drafts lean heavily toward Randle or Smart holding up a Lakers jersey on draft night.
Out of the group of players likely available to the Lakers at No. 7, however, who would you be least comfortable with the team drafting on June 26?
I have decided that my least favorite potential future Laker is Marcus Smart after doing some research on a few of the prospects in the Lakers range. This is not because of some paternalistic distaste with the much discussed "off-court issues" (mainly his shoving a courtside fan during a game), because young kids make mistakes all the time. As a 22 year old myself, I can't even really call Smart (20) a kid, and if his claims of the fan he shoved making a racial slur are true, I may have made the same mistake of not keeping a cool head in the heat of the game. I mean, Metta World Peace did worse when he was in the league and he worked out okay for the Lakers, so a few "behavioral concerns" are not of primary concern to me.
However, Marcus Smart is still my least favorite of the potential Lakers draft picks due to fit concerns. The main issue that worries me is his lack of 3 point range (below 30% in both of his college seasons), something that a point guard playing next to Kobe (primarily a post up threat at this stage of his career) has a definite need for. Another factor is the issue of taking the best player available. With all of the much vaunted potential of the big men who will be available in this range (most likely at least on of the Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, or Aaron Gordon triptych), I do not even see a scenario (barring catastrophic news on one of those bigs and/or horrible workouts) where Smart is the best player available. In today's NBA with hand checking rules the way that they are, it is much easier to find a competent point guard (which may ultimately be Smart's ceiling) than it is to find a really solid big man.
I think it is probably more prudent for the Lakers front office to roll the dice on one of Vonleh, Randle, or Gordon and look for a point guard later than it is to take Smart and vice versa just from an asset management standpoint. Whoever they choose, we all just have to hope that the front office is using the vast amounts of extra data and access they have to make the most informed choice.
Unquestionably, my least favorite potential Laker is Marcus Smart. While I think he has the chance to become a very good player, his antics drove me insane watching him this season. He is the worst and perhaps most egregious flopper I've ever seen (certainly at the college level), he showed little maturity when he decided to shove that man in the stands at Texas Tech, and overall, pardon me, but he basically seems like a dick.
He does, however, seem like the kind of player you might grow fond of if he's on your team, but despise him if he's on anyone else's team. I've never really enjoyed those kind of players, though.
The Great Mambino
After looking at the players floating around the seven slot, my least favorite potential future Laker has to be Doug McDermott. Several mock drafts have him going 8 to Sacramento or 9 to Charlotte, which leaves him dangerously close to where the Lakers will be selecting.
I actually don't have a problem with McDermott, in a vacuum. He's a fantastic scorer from nearly every spot on the floor with a quick trigger and a confident jumper. Most importantly, he's a fantastic and efficient three point shooter, a skill that can single-handedly keep a player in the NBA for a decade (Kyle Korver, come on down!). There is plenty of room--on the Lakers or any other squad for that matter--for a man of his skillset.
The problem is that his limitations are just as pronounced as his strengths. He's a decent athlete but looks destined to be a slow footed swingman who struggles to keep up defensively possession after possession. I'm not sure what his future is as a rebounder, which could be problematic as he's probably not quick enough to guard opposing small forwards but not quite big enough to compete with some of the power forwards in the game.
There are plenty of players with his limitations and his strengths that have been extremely effective players in the NBA. Guys like Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson both profile similarly to McDermott for me, so it isn't to say that he couldn't be a big-time contributor in the future. However, if the Lakers are going to keep this pick, they really should be picking up the player with the highest ceiling. To me, Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh and even Aaron Gordon have far more potential.
I hate to pile on the Marcus Smart train but ... I'm piling on the Marcus Smart train. I think he's going to be a talented point guard who makes a role for himself in the NBA. I think he's got some standout traits, like good measurements, competitiveness and strength. He's definitely a dangerous player when he's attacking the rim. I even think the Lakers wouldn't necessarily be "wasting" their pick if they went with Smart, at all. They'd get a talented, young, player at a position they don't have an answer at.
The problem with Smart splits into two areas for me. First and foremost is his inability to shoot from outside. He didn't break 30 percent shooting from the college-three in either of his seasons at O.K. State. The offense is immediately at a handicap if he's on the court. Defenders can sag off of him in the pick-and-roll and it'd be the right gamble to make almost every time. Off the ball he can't anchor his defender on the perimeter. It's impossible to overstate how important it is to have at least average shooters from the perimeter, especially in an offense that will likely feature Kobe Bryant in the post. That's already a broken fit -- about as broken as his shooting form is, in fact.
The other aspect of his game that scares me to death is his shot selection. His tendency to take contested jumpers early in the shot clock is the type of thing that can bring an offense to a screeching halt. Sure, he had more free reign in college than he will as an incoming NBA player no matter where he winds up, but bad habits are bad habits. Those bad habits are amplified when his perimeter shooting is the biggest hole in his game.
MAYBE he fixes his shooting form. MAYBE his motor and competitiveness give him the intangibles team's love. MAYBE his quickness and strength make him a very hard cover for the majority of NBA-level guards. I still like the potential of Vonleh, Gordon and Randle more than what Smart might bring the Lakers. He'll be a solid pick for some team, I'm just hoping it isn't the Lakers making it on June 26.
Taking stock of all the players that could be selected by the Lakers at the seven spot, it's tough to acknowledge that the sure fire stars like Wiggins, Embiid, and Parker won't be available. This puts even more pressure on Kupchak to nail this pick. He needs to draft someone that will help the Lakers rebuild, mollify Kobe and preferably contribute sooner than later.
With that in mind, my least favorite prospect at that position is Noah Vonleh. Several mock drafts have him going to the Lakers and you can see why. He's long with a 7'5" wingspan, he's athletic (37" vertical!), and oozes with upside, He's a good shot blocker and has the potential to stretch out to the three-point line in the NBA, which would make him an incredibly valuable asset in the league.
Here's the problem: He's also raw and not quite ready to play at NBA level. While a solid rebounder and double-double machine in college, he failed to dominate for a thoroughly mediocre Indiana team and will struggle early in the NBA. From a mentality perspective, he lacks a killer instinct and didn't take over games on offense like one might expect, He needs to add strength to be able to assert himself down low against some of the bigger bodies in the NBA. Bulking up will also help him finish around the basket. If the Lakers were drafting for potential, he's a great value at the seven pick and would likely go higher any virtually any other draft. But, the Lakers need to balance upside with short-term contributions and picking a project doesn't make sense here.
In a few years, Vonleh could well be on his way to being a solid NBA player and contributor, but he'll take a few years to get there. With his skillset, athleticism, and size, he could be a lockdown defender and force on offense that can stretch the floor. I just don't see him doing that while Kobe is still around.
The 5-8 spots on my board haven't changed since we published our draft roundtable, so I believe the Lakers will be picking between two of Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, and Marcus Smart at seven. It's not entirely unreasonable to think that Gary Harris, Tyler Ennis, or someone else might poke in on that conversation sometime in the summer, but at the moment, these are likely best options available. For those that have been reading my pieces on the draft until now, my least favorite of those four should be pretty clear: I have liked Vonleh from the start of the season due to his measurables -- which were soundly confirmed at the combine in emphatic fashion -- and stellar combination of shooting and rebounding for a big of his size; Gordon's elite athleticism makes him a tantalizing prospect, especially paired with his stellar defense for a player of his age; and Randle has his faults, but at seven, he would constitute pretty damn good value for LA.
That leaves us with Smart, who has a tough road ahead to overcome a bad landing spot for the kind of player he profiles to be. Two years of sub-30% three-point shooting have left us with an indelible impression of where he is in that regard, and that's something very hard to overcome considering who his backcourt compatriot is going to be in Kobe Bryant. Indeed, a good deal of Smart's strengths, whether it is in the post or on drives, duplicate what Kobe brings to the table and because of the poor spacing the two would engender in the same backcourt, it's hard to see them having a lot of synergy with one another. Maybe whomever the new Lakers head coach is gets creative with lineups and runs a lot of 1-2 or 2-1 P&R to utilize them together, but the bottom line is that you are pairing two ball-dominant players who don't complement each other well.
Granted, Kobe isn't going to be here for much longer and more priority should be placed on who will be best over the long-term, but that's not necessarily Smart either. If you think his defense is a big reason to go with him, I'd venture to say that the big helping and recovering on the P&R or being involved on the weak side is more important, things that both Gordon and Vonleh bring in spades. Should you want another person who can create with the ball in his hands on offense, that's certainly a big point in Smart's favor, but I'd venture to say that the gaping hole in the frontcourt is something that needs addressing more and I happen to believe in the upside of the three power forward prospects available in that range to the Lakers quite a bit.