When discussing the NBA Draft in a Los Angeles Lakers-centric context nowadays, nearly all attention is lavished on their potential top-five pick. Mind you, this is for good reason: the future fortunes of the franchise depend significantly on getting an impact player that can be a key part of whatever emerging core the Lakers are building. Practically everything the Lakers can do this summer, from signing impact free agents to leveraging their cap space in trades and so forth, pales in comparison to making sure that you're picking the right guy in the top five. On the whole, the options available to the Lakers are pretty damn good, as our recent draft big board illustrates, but again, it's understandable why this dominates most of the available discussion.
But the Lakers also have two other picks in the draft at #27 and #34, solid if unspectacular places to be under the best of circumstances. Indeed, one could even say that a bit of cautious optimism is warranted here. Mitch Kupchak has had a fairly solid run as of late in the second round, managing to find utter steals (Jordan Clarkson), solid role players (Ryan Kelly), and more often than not, getting a better player than you would usually find at that spot (Robert Sacre). Even the recent draft picks that didn't work out, such as Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, or Darius Johnson-Odom could arguably be said to be solid picks since by and large, they were better than the grand majority of the options available at the time. (We'll consider Ater Majok a happy blip and inside office joke none of us get.)
As a result, we should preface the rest of this discussion by saying that Kupchak has an awful lot of rope with these two picks. If he wants to select a European player few of us have watched, we should be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he has a higher opinion of one of the American prospects at #27 than most of us do, we'll wait for events to play out even if we might question the methodology. There's been warranted criticism - intermixed among all of the absolutely unwarranted fire-breathing nonsense bereft of context, but we digress - of the front office, but their draft record has been consistently strong, at least when the franchise deigns to keep their picks.
This caveat is important since at the moment, the options available to the Lakers at #27 look increasingly grim. A slew of players unexpectedly returning to school has shattered the depth of the draft and past the late 30's or so, we're looking at an utter wasteland of talent. This has also had the effect of moving everyone in the mid-to-late first round up quite a bit, and it's created a worrying drop-off point of talent that the Lakers unfortunately find themselves looking up at. This isn't to say that the players available at #27 and to a lesser extent, #34 aren't decent prospects, but rather that there's a noticeable gap between them and the players who are projected to currently go in the late teens and early-to-mid 20's.
Take the recent Draft Express mock draft for an illustration of how this worst-case scenario can play out. The difference in boards among various analysts notwithstanding, the aforementioned drop-off point occurs in the mid-20's. R.J. Hunter (long ace shooter with excellent measurements albeit average athletic testing, some worries about how playing years in zone will translate to the NBA), Justin Anderson (upper tier athlete, solid measurements for a three, was a killer shooter his last year at Virginia), and Robert Upshaw (one of the best shot-blockers in the nation before being kicked off the team at Washington, character concerns preventing him from moving higher) were three of the prospects that looked to be more or less available to the Lakers a month or so ago at #27 that have probably moved beyond their grasp. All filled needs on the team and would have made sense from a value perspective, the possibility of the top-five pick playing the same position and dropping them off the Lakers' board aside.
After them, we have a worrying collection of remaining first round talent and the options that do stand out have a rather noticeable problem in that they all tend to play the same position. For ease of reading, let's go down and examine every option currently available on the recent Draft Express mock:
Jerrell Martin: He's a four and the Lakers simply aren't going to be interested in a four, BPA be damned, since there's no real point in doing so and the pick won't get any playing time. Sure, Martin's a better prospect than Ryan Kelly, but the opportunity cost of picking Martin versus someone at nearly any other position just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's why Kristaps Porzingis has been summarily excluded from the recent Silver Screen and Roll draft boards despite likely deserving a spot in the top seven on sheer talent. Indeed, for a lot of the prospects in this range, the Lakers probably aren't even interested in centers who only project as backups, seeing as they have two on the roster already in Tarik Black and Robert Sacre.
Delon Wright: On paper, Wright appears to be a decent choice. He improved his outside shooting his senior year and has the size to play either guard position, but when it really comes down to it, he's a pass-first guy who probably needs to be at the point with the ball. There's also question of whether his shooting really ends up translating to the NBA, especially since he utterly lacks a respectable mid-range jumper, and if he doesn't, he can't really play with Clarkson. As a result, the Lakers would essentially be drafting Clarkson's backup at #27 and that doesn't feel like an efficient use of their time. With, say, Emmanuel Mudiay, who has similar problems fitting with Clarkson, the talent is such that it makes this an acceptable risk, but Wright isn't even close to being in that echelon.
Rashad Vaughn: Now we're talking. Vaughn has quite a few flaws, his shot selection one of the bigger ones, but he was still one of the better scorers in college basketball as a freshman at UNLV. He's also quite young for this area of the draft; for instance, Wright is almost five years older than Vaughn and the only first rounder younger than him is lottery prospect Devin Booker. Now, Vaughn doesn't quite have the measurements and athleticism to offer a more tantalizing lens on that upside, but at this point in the draft, you take it. Indeed, the issue with Vaughn is less him and more that the position he plays at complicates the pick at #34, as we'll soon see.
Chris McCullough: See Martin.
So, that's fine, right? The Lakers take Vaughn at #27 and then go with BPA at #34? (Let's presume for the sake of argument that the Lakers didn't take D'Angelo Russell or Mario Hezonja in the top five, thus making this a giant moot point and even more of a crapshoot.) Well, observe how many shooting guard (and combo guard) options litter the area in the second round around #34:
Andrew Harrison, J.P. Tokoto, Timothe Luwawu, Terry Rozier, Michael Qualls, Olivier Hanlan, Michael Frazier, Norman Powell, Tyler Harvey...and we could go on. Now, some of these guys, like Harrison, Rozier, and Hanlan could be justified on the grounds that they could play point guard in the pros and that's a legitimate counterpoint. Before we delve into that, however, let's also exclude from consideration here the fours (Jordan Mickey, Jonathan Holmes, Richaun Holmes) and the backup fives (Rakeem Christmas, Dakari Johnson, Cliff Alexander). Who does that leave us with?
Aleksander Vezenkov: Vezenkov's another great on-paper option: a deadeye shooter who's played well abroad, has good floor sense, and rebounds well. Unfortunately, he's already a defensive liability against European players due to his lackluster lateral quickness and he was a non-factor in the passing lanes. Needless to say, that won't work against even more athletic NBA players and there's a fair argument that this forces Vezenkov to the four in the NBA, something that the Lakers kind of don't need at the moment. If the defensive issues can be somewhat mollified, this becomes an far more interesting pick, as the Lakers could really benefit from shooting at the three - that they'd be picking another Sasha no doubt helps - but it's a choice with a colossal question mark over it.
Mouhammadou Jaiteh, Nikola Milutinov, and Guillermo Hernangomez: All three of these guys are included here largely as an illustration of the difficulty of projecting how they will do in the NBA, and perhaps there's something that Mitch Kupchak and the team's European scouts see that we don't. But by and large, they appear to be backups in the same mold as Johnson, Alexander, and Christmas. Jaiteh is quite raw at the moment, Milutinov needs to add strength, and Hernangomez likely is too floor bound to have much upside of note.
George de Paula: The 2015 combine measurements hero, de Paula is incredibly long for a point guard at 6'5.5'' in shoes and a 7' wingspan, which says wonders for his defensive versatility. Now, that's down the road since de Paula currently can't really play in the NBA. Indeed, there's the thought that he could barely cut it in college at the moment since he's so raw. As a result, you're making this pick solely for draft-and-stash purposes.
Anthony Brown: Brown might quite literally be the only wing player available to the Lakers in the second round who can actually play small forward in the NBA. In general, the panoply of wing options mentioned above lacks the length or bulk to play the three, and as previously mentioned, several are actually combo guards that will shift over to the one rather than the three. And even Brown will have to bulk up a bit from the 211 pounds he was listed as at the combine to play the three, although he has the requisite length at 6'8.5'' in shoes and a 6'11.25'' wingspan. Now, to his credit, Brown has legitimate NBA skills, his shooting ability being chief among them and Kevin Pelton wondered whether he could be a Danny Green or Khris Middleton type in the pros, but there might not be that much upside to mine in a senior who will be 23 by the time the next NBA season rolls around.
Altogether, this isn't an inspiring selection to parse. By and large, the Lakers' options at #27 and #34 are predominately two guards, and the options at other positions are rather limited. The best choice as it stands is probably to take a two guard with one of the two picks and go with someone who can play point guard at the other unless one believes that Vezenkov can play defense or that Brown has a bit more upside than he has shown. This becomes even more complicated if the Lakers' top-five pick ends up being either Russell or Hezonja, as then it only makes sense to use one of #27 or #34 on a guard and this would require trying to salvage value at another position with the other pick. Heck, you already need that two guard you're picking at #27 or #34 to be appreciably better than Jabari Brown for that pick to make any sense, and that criteria might not encompass the entire list above.
The dilemma here is strained enough that a draft-and-stash selection with one of the two picks does make sense, as it relieves the Lakers of needing to worry about trying to fit in all of the mentioned pieces next season while getting those players meaningful development time. This could especially be the case for #34, as second round picks are freed of the rookie scale and it might make it easier to bring over the foreign player in the future. The timeline for the Lakers' rebuilding effort is probably better served by having these young players develop now when the stakes don't matter that much, but it is one solution to this issue.
Another is leveraging the Lakers' draft position to possibly move up in the draft, bypassing the issue of fit by focusing on maximizing the quality of that single pick. The Lakers wouldn't need to move especially high to make this happen either. Somewhere in mid-20s would likely give them one of the Hunter/Anderson/Upshaw trio mentioned above and an outside shot at the Cameron Payne, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Tyus Jones group, any of whom would be a significant coup. Now, why would a team be interested in moving down for say both #27 and #34 given the issues we've spent 2,000 words discussing? Quite simply, they presumably would lack the fit issues that plague the Lakers in this area of the draft. If, say, power forward was actually a need for the Lakers, they would be chock full of options and yours truly would be the biggest Jordan Mickey proponent.
Normally, this wouldn't be my first choice when managing a draft board. Especially with a general manager like Kupchak, who has managed to squeeze value out of late second round picks, you want to maximize the number of selections you get rather than trying to increase the quality of that pick in most circumstances. These aren't most circumstances because of the way the board has played out in such a manner that it's limited how much value the Lakers can extract out of these two picks. There's still quite a bit of time until the draft, so none of this is set in stone and some shifts in the board could change this entire calculus, but at the moment, the best path available to the Lakers seems to be trying to move up. After all, if the Lakers want to move back into the draft, some team later in the second round will surely be available to sell to them another All-Rookie performer.
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