The Los Angeles Lakers are in position to draft either Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 2 pick, but is it that simple? There's a case to be made that D'Angelo Russell should still be an option for the Lakers, as we've discussed in detail here.
It seems like a clear-cut choice for the Lakers to select Towns if he's available, but what if it comes down to Okafor or Russell? What then? Two of our writers decided to take it to their inboxes to discuss what the Lakers should do in this scenario.
Last Tuesday when it was announced that the Lakers had leapfrogged the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the draft order and would be selecting second overall, fans of the team (like yours truly) were ecstatic. Visions of pairing Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor with Julius Randle were a common occurrence all across the greater Los Angeles area. I understand you do not think it is as much of a given the Lakers should select a big man?
Ever since the Lakers got lucky on lottery night, I've been torn on who I want the team to take with their second overall pick. While I'm a fan of both Towns and Okafor, I actually lean towards the team maybe using that pick on Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell. Since I read the piece where Drew Garrison raved about him on this blog, I've been a huge fan of Russell based on his incredible court vision and potential to work as a combo guard.
It's really been a while since I've seen a young guard seem to master the PnR in a way that Russell did during his short time with Ohio State. Alongside his ability to make smooth, seamless passes out of that set, he's also able to cause some damage as a scorer. He's one of the best ball-handlers in this year's draft, as he has an array of beautiful moves that he uses to work his way past a defender. Russell developed into a pretty solid perimeter shooting threat, as he shot 41 percent from beyond the arc on six attempts per game.
Perhaps I've been spending too much time imagining watching Russell-Randle PnR's for the next decade but I really wouldn't be opposed to seeing the team use that pick on Russell. On a scale of 1-10, how crazy am I?
I am going with a three on the crazy scale, with a one being someone who says "this draft is pretty good" and a 10 being a person saying "Matt Stainbrook should be the first overall pick".
I am guilty of loving Russell's game for all the reasons you just listed, as well as his supreme (and warranted) sense of confidence in his abilities. Plus, who doesn't love plays like this?
Russell and Randle P&Rs with Clarkson attacking off the weakside? Hard to make an argument for anything over that. Let me try:
I do not dispute anything you said about Russell or that he is valuable. I just think Jahlil Okafor is more valuable. For one, scorers with his combination of skills, touch and vast array of moves in the post do not come along very often. Just as impressive is his ability to beat double teams with the ease of Hulk swatting away Hydra soldiers.
Offensive efficiency is something Okafor will likely never take criticism for. Most of the freshman sensation's criticism came was regarding defense, and much of it was deserved. Okafor often made the cardinal sin of playing defense while standing totally upright, slowing his reaction times and driving youth coaches everywhere to tear their hair out. He never seemed to develop great awareness on defense, or honestly devote full effort to it.
Now its your turn to tell me, am I crazy for thinking Okafor can improve to be average on defense when not asked to carry an offense for most of a game?
Maybe? A lot of the complaints that I have about Okafor is that he's not too good at either defending the PnR or protecting the rim. I know that he'll mainly be working against centers but his lack of awareness combined with the traits that I just mentioned makes me question taking him at with the No. 2 pick.
Now I ask you Harrison, how does Okafor's sheer ability to score from the paint make him into such a valuable prospect?
That is the real question isn't it? Especially as the game becomes faster paced each year, with less focus on post ups.
I personally value his post scoring highly because basketball seems to be a game of penetration. Whether this is getting the ball to the basket via a drive, pass, or shot (to paraphrase Phil Jackson) does not matter, as long as the player is smart enough to either score when they have an advantage, or find an open shooter if the other team helps. Both Russell and Okafor look to be able to do these things. Post-ups have gone out of vogue a little bit in recent NBA history because they have been revealed to be fairly inefficient methods of scoring in the majority of cases.
The exception is when the player has a clear advantage. I believe Okafor will have that over most of the guys trying to guard him. When he does not, Okafor seems to have an almost preternatural ability to make the right pass away from help. Combine these passing skills with the also impressive playmaking and reportedly improving shot of Julius Randle, and I do not think their offensive fit is quite as tough as people make it sound. The Lakers will surely need to acquire some shooters to space the floor around them, but I believe they can make it work.
The defensive concerns are real, but I think Okafor will improve when forced to pay more attention to his faults on that end in the pros. I also think that guards, with hand checking eliminated, are easier to find than big men with the offensive potential of Okafor. I mean look at this ridiculous shot chart!
To a certain degree all of this is guess work, and I am not envious of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss' obligation to make the final call between the two. Can we at least agree that either way, the Lakers are getting a stud?
Most definitely. Despite Okafor's defensive issues and lack of any real mid-range game, he's still one of the best inside scoring threats that I've seen come out of the draft for awhile. However, as the Lakers continue on the journey of whatever they're doing, I'm just not a fan of using such a valuable pick on a player that struggles on defense and can't really score away from the paint. So that ultimately leaves me with either wanting Towns or Russell, with the Kentucky product being the player that I'd want the most.
I just want to see fun Lakers basketball again and I agree that any of these prospects would get us a lot closer to seeing that happen.