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Lakers NBA draft board: Karl-Anthony Towns reigns at the top

Although the Silver Screen and Roll staff is uniformly agreed on who they would want the Lakers to pick if they win the lottery, there is broad disagreement afterward on the direction the Lakers should take, especially on the degree to which fit and talent should be weighed.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Quite a lot has happened since we had our inaugural draft board for the season. A new college champion was crowned, Kentucky left a lot of people thinking that "Kentucky vs. the field" was a genuinely legitimate bet in hot water, and the Los Angeles Lakers finished the season bad enough to still have a decent chance of keeping their pick but sufficiently good as to leave the fans in collective agony until May 19 rolls around. As one might expect, several of these events have also shuffled around the draft boards of most of your Silver Screen and Roll writers, producing broad consensus on the names in our respective top sevens, but not necessarily on the order of those names.

The tournament, however, did serve as a coronation party for a new consensus first overall pick in Karl-Anthony Towns that is dutifully reproduced below, as well as a termination of the slagging campaign of Stanley Johnson to be a candidate to wear purple and gold. Likely to the chagrin of the Fullerton native, Johnson simply couldn't overcome his enormous problems finishing inside the arc, and combined with Justise Winslow's victory march to the championship, the competition over who the best wing in the draft is was conclusively decided. As a result, Johnson's place on nearly every board here was taken by hyper-athletic Croatian wing Mario Hezonja.

With a full season of evaluation under our belt, both of the college/overseas prospects and the Lakers themselves, our writers have also had the opportunity to make more informed decisions on these prospects' fit and ultimate projections, which has produced a wide variance in the boards. This has hurt, for instance, Emmanuel Mudiay, whose power drive game and poor outside shooting make him a less-than-ideal fit with Jordan Clarkson, and significantly raised the fortunes of Julius Randle's former college teammate Willie Cauley-Stein, a development in part caused by worries over Jahlil Okafor's projected defensive problems in the pros.

Taking this into account, let us proceed with our consensus board. Recall also that this is a Lakers-centric draft board, so our writers were encouraged to take into account the Lakers' specific needs and team context. (I'll still expect a random person to appear and decry Kristaps Porzingis' absence, but I digress.)

#7: Mario Hezonja

Ben Rosales (ranked him #7): Stanley Johnson was here on my board for the longest time but it's hard to overlook the fact that he only shot 40% in the paint this year and had an awful tournament, Arizona's spacing issues be damned. In his place is a very good finisher in Hezonja, who is a physical marvel of a swingman with an insane first step and excellent shooting ability. His consistency and attention on defense are issues, as well as his attitude apparently, but the latter aspect will probably only be a plus for arch-asshole Kobe Bryant.

Trevor Lane (ranked him #6): Hezonja has been steadily rising up draft boards for some time now, and with good reason. Like Mudiay he has played against top competition overseas but has been doing so since he was 14. Hezonja has an intriguing mix of extreme athleticism combined with dead-eye shooting, and there have been whispers that some teams may have him ranked even higher than this. Mitch Kupchak did take a scouting trip to Europe a few months ago and the Lakers have been rumored to be one of the teams interested in Hezonja. Should he end up in purple and gold it would be a risky pick but one that could pay big dividends down the road.

Harrison Faigen (ranked him #6): Hezonja's athleticism is phenomenal, as is his joy in emphatically flying off of or hanging on the rim to taunt opponents after smashing on or around them. A 6'8 shooting guard, Hezonja will probably play the 3 as well in the NBA, a big plus as the league shifts towards valuing versatility more and more. In limited attempts, he has also shown an ability to can three pointers, 38.7% overall this year, a crucial skill for a modern wing. With Kobe Bryant just about ready to hang them up, the Lakers need a wing for the future, and Hezonja may be that guy.

Drew Garrison (ranked him #7): He's flown under the radar leading up to the draft lottery but Hezonja has a highly-refined skillset that makes him a tantalizing option at the wing. He's incredibly athletic, has ideal size for a small forward, and is a shooting specialist. He has a quick release off catch-and-shoot opportunities and is good at mixing it up inside once he has his defender off balance. Hezonja had the ball in his hands often, which exposed his shortcomings as a decision-maker, but the Lakers would have other players handling that. He could be an ideal "system" wing who does his damage while moving off-ball and in transition.

#6: Justise Winslow

Ben (ranked him #6): The biggest winner from the tournament, Winslow was everywhere on both ends of the floor and was probably Duke's best player. His combination of superlative athleticism, outside shooting, and defensive versatility is super tantalizing, and he's all but crushed any conversation about whom the top wing in the draft is. There are some concerns that a good chunk of his success came in a smallball four role he won't be able to play full-time in the pros and he continues to lack an in-between game, but there's no better option in the draft for the Lakers at the three.

Trevor (ranked him #5): To me, this is where the draft drops off a little talent-wise, although Justise Winslow does have the potential to be one of the best players in the draft when all is said and done. If he had played the way he did during the NCAA tournament the entire year then there would certainly be an argument for taking him in the top 4, and given the fact that most of the quality free agent wings this summer are restricted, it's still possible that he moves up with solid workouts. Winslow has a great motor, is physically strong, and isn't afraid to mix it up. While some have compared him to Kawhi Leonard, he reminds me more of a young Metta World Peace, just with a bit less crazy. The biggest question mark on him is that most of his success in college came as a power forward, a position he won't be able to play major minutes at in the pros. If the Lakers land him, their roster-building efforts will be slightly easier this summer, as they already have a young guard in Clarkson and can focus their efforts on landing one of several bigs who will be available in free agency.

Harrison (ranked him #7): My worry with Winslow is that his "breakout" in the NCAA tournament occurred once he was moved to the 4, a position that at 6'7" he will likely play very little of in the pros, and especially not on the Lakers with Randle. How much of that production was a benefit of playing against slower players who had to play a step off of him on the perimeter or risk a blow by? Winslow has potential, but I am less high on him than most. However, his ability to defend as many as three positions in the pros is valuable in a league increasingly reliant on switching.

Tom Fehr (ranked him #6): Winslow skyrocketed up many draft boards in March and April, and for good reason. He showed he can be quite a destructive force. Would be a great option for the Lakers on the wing.

Drew (ranked him #5): Winslow played his way into being widely-considered the top wing player in the draft through a great NCAA tournament. The Lakers have needed help in the wings for years and this could be the answer. Devin Ebanks? Wesley Johnson? Enough is enough, and getting a two-way player like Winslow at a position of need would be a big catch for the Lakers. His ceiling is very high and he fits perfectly within the Lakers' current rebuilding path, allowing the front office to focus elsewhere on the roster this summer.

#5: Willie Cauley-Stein

Ben (ranked him #5): That WCS laps the field as a defender is largely a given, but it's important to put the complaints about his offense in context as well. Yes, WCS had difficulty creating in the post, off the dribble, and so forth. He also did this. And this. In fact, he had quite a few of these. Needless to say, a guy like that will be a whole lot of fun off the pick-and-roll in the NBA and considering that he was barely involved in that respect at Kentucky and had to deal with the Harrison twins for two years, he'll be fine in that regard. The Randle connection and synergy only helps him more.

Trevor (ranked him #7): How valuable is defense? Cauley-Stein was arguably the best defensive player in college basketball last year, with his ability to defend all 5 positions drawing rave reviews. Unfortunately his offensive game is nowhere near as advanced, and he gets most of his points on catching and finishing at the rim and putbacks. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as a team drafting WCS knows they are getting a player who can contribute without having any plays called for him. It's unlikely that Cauley-Stein will be able to adequately defend point guards and shooting guards in the NBA the way he did in college, but his ability to step out and cover on pick and roll situations can still be extremely valuable. At 21 he doesn't have as much upside as some of the younger players in the draft, but the best-case scenario for WCS is that he becomes Tyson Chandler, which isn't a bad thing at all, not to mention the fact the Julius Randle would love playing with his college teammate again.

Harrison (ranked him #4): Ranking Trill here over Mudiay could end up returning to make yours truly look pretty stupid if the latter pans out as well as many think he could. Here's why I ranked Cauley-Stein fourth anyway: fit and position. WCS seems to be a perfect fit next to Randle on defense, plus his athleticism and ability to catch and finish in the pick and roll is incredibly valuable in today's "P&R over everything" league. Point guards who can penetrate off the dribble seem to be a more and more common every year, but finding a big to roll with them and play high level defense like Stein can at his ceiling get more and more rare.

Tom (ranked him #3): I'm torn on this, but let me explain: There is no way I think WCS is the 3rd best player in the draft, certainly won't be a better player than Okafor, but he's a better fit for the Lakers. They need good defense at the 5, and Okafor just can't provide that. WCS almost assuredly will. He's a monster athletically.

Drew (ranked him #6): Cauley-Stein immediately becomes the backbone of the Lakers' defense, even if he isn't the kind of player who creates opportunities for himself. He could flourish in both the pick-and-roll and transition, and would be a great fit next to Randle. There's a case to be made that he's a more ideal player than Mudiay, but his ceiling is much lower than Emmanuel, and Winslow may pan out as the better all-around player. Cauley-Stein has the defensive tools to be an anchor for a franchise, though, which could make teams that passed on him regretful.

#4: Emmanuel Mudiay

Ben (ranked him #4): Mudiay has by far the worst fit of any of the top prospects, save for Kristaps Porzingis, on the Lakers because both he and Clarkson are mediocre floor spacers. That's hardly an insurmountable obstacle, however, and Mudiay's otherwise a superb prospect with fantastic size for a point guard, great court vision, and solid athleticism. Think Tyreke Evans with better passing, and if Mudiay can improve his outside shot, he could easily transcend that comparison. Talent and BPA overwhelm any other concerns here.

Trevor (ranked him #4): Mudiay is this year's man of mystery after only playing a handful of games in the Chinese Basketball Association, but more than held his own against professional players while he was there. One could even argue that Mudiay's success in China carries more weight than that of his collegiate peers due to the fact that he was playing against more physically mature competition. While there are question marks about his jump shot, everything else is fantastic. He is big for a point guard (6'5"), is a creative and willing passer, and gets to the rim with his tremendous strength and quickness. If D'Angelo Russell is a Curry/Harden hybrid, then Mudiay is Russell Westbrook. While he isn't as natural of a fit next to Clarkson as Russell is, in reality if the Lakers land anywhere in the top 4 they are getting an excellent player that fans should be very excited about.

Harrison (ranked him #5): Mudiay is this draft's mystery man, living in short clips from CBA play. Working in Mudiay's favor is how impressive and controlled he looks in those clips, especially for a 19-year-old playing against grown men instead of overmatched NCAA walk-ons. Working against Mudiay is the mystery factor: he could end up becoming the best player in this draft, end up looking as overmatched as last year's urban legend Dante Exum, or anywhere in between. The lack of tangibility when projecting his career drops him to fifth, just barely behind WCS.

Tom (ranked him #5): Almost by default; I have no expert opinions on Mudiay. From what I have gathered, he's extremely athletic and gifted, but his shooting is still a bit of a question mark.

Drew (ranked him #4): Mudiay has shortcomings in my eyes because every scouting report on him says his outside stroke is questionable. The Lakers already lack floor spacing, and mortgaging what could be their biggest asset over the next few years on a player that could be hard to fit into an efficient offense isn't ideal. He'd still be the best backcourt prospect the Lakers have brought in for ages, and his size and athleticism should translate into an exciting player. I'm not down on Emmanuel, it's more of a testament to the how highly I consider the players above him.

#2: D'Angelo Russell (tie)

Ben (ranked him #3): Russell takes this spot by a hair over Mudiay since, unlike the latter, it appears that he'll have more synergy with the Lakers' only backcourt player of note in Jordan Clarkson. His defense, finishing issues, and relatively so-so explosion are issues, but he's otherwise a textbook guard for the modern age: a deadeye shooter who can also run the pick-and-roll adeptly. Last I checked, two of those guys were neck-and-neck for MVP.

Trevor (ranked him #2): This was probably the most difficult decision of the draft, and it was made primarily based on the way the modern NBA game is being played. There is a definite push towards floor spacing, three-point shooting, and lots of drive-and-kick actions, and as such D'Angelo Russell may have the best chance of anyone in the draft to become a true superstar. While he is lacking a little athleticism he is a phenomenal shooter and passer, and has the ability to create space with his slick ball handling. The two main challengers for this year's MVP award were James Harden and Stephen Curry, and it's tough to watch Russell play without getting the impression that he is a beardless hybrid of both. He has a bit of sizzle to his game, and it's easy to envision D'Angelo and Jordan Clarkson becoming twin whirlwinds of pick and roll death.

Harrison (ranked him #3): Russell probably will never be as good as Stephen Curry, but when watching him you can see why the comparisons are made. Both possess a similar flair in their play-making, and are a joy to watch. It has almost become an overworn trope to say the Lakers have not had a point guard like that since the days of Nick Van Exel, but well, the Lakers have not had a point guard like that since Nick Van Exel. Mitch Kupchak needs to pull the trigger on picking Russell so this kid can start pulling the trigger on his jumper in purple and gold.

Tom (ranked him #2): My favorite guy in the draft. Super fun. If he reaches his potential he could have a game that is something of a hybrid of Curry and Conley.

Drew (ranked him #3): I've been on the Russell wagon for a long time and that hasn't changed. He's such a fluid player, and his ability to space the floor is incredibly appealing. He has phenomenal length for his position and can probably fill in at either guard position. He's a shifty left-handed assassin who has every tool he needs to be a big-time scorer, and I'm much more comfortable with him over Emmanuel Mudiay, especially with the available scouting material.

#2: Jahlil Okafor (tie)

Ben (ranked him #2): Okafor's flaws have been subject to some of the most intense scrutiny a top pick has received in recent memory, with everything from his defensive rotations, rebounding, and even his scoring in some respects broken down and critiqued. He's still one of the best post players college basketball has seen in ages and it's not outlandish that he gets in better shape and utilizes some better explosion to help cover up his issues. Even if Towns has supplanted him as the consensus #1, the package Okafor offers is too much to not take here.

Trevor (ranked him #3): Okafor was thought to be the top pick for most of the college season but his deficiencies have made teams wonder about how well he will transition to the NBA. Unlike Towns, Jahlil Okafor is something of a throw-back player as a big who wants to go work in the post rather than step out and shoot jumpers. His defense is questionable at best, and to make matters worse he isn't much of a rim protector. Okafor is also a liability at the free throw line and can struggle when playing against opponents that are his size, which he would be almost every night in the NBA. All that being said, it's easy to nit-pick his negatives and forget that Okafor also has the most advanced post game we have seen coming out of college in years. He has moves, counter-moves, and counter-counter-moves that he strings together so fluidly it can be mesmerizing to watch. He also has enormous hands which allow him to catch everything that comes his way and at 270 pounds he's a load to deal with inside. If working with professional strength and conditioning coaches can improve his lateral quickness and ability to contest shots at the rim, look out because he will be a true force in the NBA and could give the Lakers a heck of a partner for Julius Randle.

Harrison (ranked him #2): Okafor would be a hell of a consolation prize for whatever team picks second. The first overall spot was his to lose for most of the year, and while Towns overtook him, that was more of a product of Towns' play than anything Okafor did wrong. Neither Randle nor Okafor are floor spacers or standout defenders, but the offensive versatility and passing skills for this pair would be off the charts, leaving dreams of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (not a perfect comp, but similar lack of spacing) interior passing dancing in my head.

Tom (ranked him #4): Monster down low. He's going to be an awesome player. I just don't think you can build a great defense if you have him and Randle as the frontcourt, and without a great defense you won't win titles. I like him the most in New York under the triangle.

Drew (ranked him #2): Even though Okafor has serious questions regarding his defense, his offense alone could be worth the ticket. While he won't cover as much for Randle -- at least not immediately -- he'll give the Lakers two versatile big men to build around. He also ranks ahead of the point guards by a wide margin because of positional needs following Jordan Clarkson's surprising rookie campaign. If Okafor somehow ends up in a Lakers uniform, it could be a huge moment for the rebuild.

#1: Karl-Anthony Towns

Ben (ranked him #1): Towns supplanted Okafor a few months ago atop most boards and has had an ironclad grip on the spot since. For most of the tournament, he was utterly unstoppable on offense, scoring at will in the post over everyone, as well as grabbing nearly every rebound in his catch radius and playing great defense. It really can't be emphasized how insanely well Towns fills the enormous hole at center for the Lakers, not only since there's, well, no one else there at the moment, but since at least on paper, he appears to have great synergy with Julius Randle. He's the top of the Lakers' board; end of story.

Trevor (ranked him #1): Towns has risen to the top of nearly every draft board out there, and for good reason. He has always been known as a great defender, but towards the end of the college season he was able to put fears to rest about his elementary offensive game. While he still looks a bit stiff (I actually think his post game reminds me of Andrew a good way) and will probably never have the fluidity of Jahlil Okafor, Towns has an all-around game that is nearly impossible to pass up with the first pick. He can protect the rim, score inside, shoot the mid-range jumper (and potentially corner threes!), and has passing skills beyond what he was able to show at Kentucky. He isn't a freak athlete like Anthony Davis, but he is good-to-great in every other area. Should the Lakers get lucky enough to land the #1 pick and pair Julius Randle with Karl-Anthony Towns, they will have a fantastic young frontcourt to build around for the foreseeable future.

Harrison (ranked him #1): Ranking KAT does not need a lot of explaining to anyone who watched Kentucky this year. From his regular swallowing up of any shot unfortunate enough to be attempted in his airspace to the soft touch he demonstrated at times, leaving tantalizing potential to grow into not only a pick and roll but also pick and pop partner for Lakers' guards going forward. This should be a no-brainer should the team be lucky enough to select first overall.

Tom (ranked him #1): Right now, he's pretty clearly the #1 guy, both overall and for the Lakers. Going to be a great big both ways with tons of upside and should be a nice fit next to Randle.

Drew (ranked him #1): As much as a polished post player like Jahlil Okafor would be incredible, a behemoth like Towns, who can be a two-way force, edges out the competition for various reasons, particularly how well putting him next to Julius Randle should work out. While it's early to anoint Julius as a "foundational" piece, he's a big part of the plan right now, and Towns would make for a dynamic frontcourt that can carry the franchise forward.

For a combined list of our participants' own top seven, observe the following table:

Ben Rosales Trevor Lane Harrison Faigen Tom Fehr Drew Garrison
1 Karl-Anthony Towns Karl-Anthony Towns Karl-Anthony Towns Karl-Anthony Towns Karl-Anthony Towns
2 Jahlil Okafor D'Angelo Russell Jahlil Okafor D'Angelo Russell Jahlil Okafor
3 D'Angelo Russell Jahlil Okafor D'Angelo Russell Willie Cauley-Stein D'Angelo Russell
4 Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay Willie Cauley-Stein Jahlil Okafor Emmanuel Mudiay
5 Willie Cauley-Stein Justise Winslow Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay Justise Winslow
6 Justise Winslow Mario Hezonja Mario Hezonja Justise Winslow Willie Cauley-Stein
7 Mario Hezonja Willie-Cauley Stein Justise Winslow Kelly Oubre Mario Hezonja

Follow our writers on Twitter: Ben Rosales (@brosales12), Trevor Lane (@16ringsNBA), Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen), Tom Fehr (@TJFSports), Drew Garrison (@DrewGarrisonSBN)

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