We've talked so much about how lucky the Los Angeles Lakers are for snagging the number two pick in the upcoming draft. After three seasons of absolutely horrid luck, the team was more than due. But even with the second selection this Thursday, there's still no guarantee LA's fortunes will turn around.
The number two pick has produced a ton of great players in recent memory: Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, Steve Francis, Mike Bibby, Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd. Conversely, the number two pick has also been littered with huge bust potential. Look no further than recent draftees like Derrick Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley, Marvin Williams and MMA combatant Darko Milicic.
So let's gird ourselves, Lakers fans, against further heartbreak. The time for optimism is over. Let's get back to the real world of cynicism and naysaying. Let's talk about the worst case scenarios here.
If the Lakers are indeed lucky enough to be able to select Towns, what are you most afraid his fatal flaw could be?
Tom Fehr: I'm not really afraid of a "fatal flaw" for Towns, but I suppose it would be that he isn't able to develop a consistent offensive repertoire that allows him to score on a consistent basis. But he's going to be good no matter what, even if he's just a super athletic rim protector.
Harrison Faigen: What worries me most about Towns is his tendency to get into foul trouble in college (5.6 per 40 minutes), which could show good, aggressive defensive instincts, but also could be a harbinger of even further struggles in the pros. Towns will likely improve at staying out of foul trouble as he grows up and continues to gain experience, but if he never curbs his predilection for drawing whistles it could become a real problem for him in the NBA.
Tucker Tashjian: Did somebody say Darko Milicic?
Where were we? Oh yeah, Towns. Towns is about as sure a thing as an NBA Prospect can be. That being said, he didn't have to play all that much throughout his season at Kentucky. Because of the team's deep and squad-based roster, Towns only averaged 21.1 minutes per game. But if you stretch out his stats to reflect 40 minutes of play they look awesome: 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
Maybe his flaw is that he apparently has an imaginary friend... but more likely his biggest flaw may be his durability. Averaging just over 20 minutes per game against mainly weak opponents doesn't say much about his conditioning or his ability to stay healthy. We'll see if his tenacity can endure against NBA players for 40 minutes and through 82 games.
Trevor Lane: With Towns I am most afraid of chronic injury issues. While playing at Kentucky he sometimes went after blocks recklessly, jumping into other players and putting himself at risk of turning an ankle or doing damage to a knee. While his defense can be spectacular, I would be holding my breath every time he launches himself into traffic to get a block. He is a little top-heavy, and leg injuries can be a major problem for bigs (just ask Andrew Bynum....or Joel Embiid). Towns also only played a little over 20 minutes a night in college; will his body be able to handle an 82-game season?
Ben Rosales: An inability to play defense without fouling. This is by and large a stretch for a prospect that seemingly has as few weaknesses as Towns does, but a good portion of his value is supposedly his eventual evolution into a two-way monster. If he can't stay on the court and play effective defense at the same time, that pretense falls apart, and he either has to chose between playing far more circumspect defense or simply not being on the floor all that often. Now, some circumspection on defense isn't a bad thing and this is an issue that probably will be ironed out as he learns how to play within NBA defensive schemes, but it's certainly something to watch for.
Jameson Miller: As alluded to in the preamble, NBA draft history is littered with busts taken in the top five. Some were easier to see than others, but there have been plenty of "can't miss" prospects that, well, did. A quick Google search of the draft profiles of any of the former prospects mentioned bears plenty of optimism and a general belief that those players would improve upon their shortcomings. With Towns, my concern isn't so much that a singular flaw like a proclivity for fouling or a theoretical predisposition to injury will derail him, but rather that his many strengths might not shine as brightly at the NBA level, where the size, strength and athleticism he'll face will dwarf anything he saw in college.
Sabreena Merchant: I think the one reason Okafor stayed in the conversation for no. 1 over Towns for as long as he did is because he does one thing (score in the post) better than Towns does anything. So I suppose Towns' fatal flaw would be that he can be good at some things in the NBA - he can shoot well, he can defend the pick-and-roll, he can protect the rim, etc. - but he fails to exert his dominance at the professional level and doesn't turn into a star. I worry that he won't be able to take over a game on offense the same way some other players in this class are able to.
The Great Mambino: My fears mostly revolve around him being a very good player, but not a great player. It seems that K-AT is very good at many things (albeit with a ton of room to grow), whereas Okafor is already elite on post offense. I'm not sure that it's a fatal flaw, but the argument here has to be settling for potential rather than proven skill.
The Lakers have been slotted to take Okafor in many mock drafts. What is your secret (or not so secret) worst feat about the Duke big man?
Tom Fehr: Defense, easily. I don't know if Okafor can be the rim protector of a good defense. This has always been the thing that worries me the most about Okafor, and if he goes to the Lakers, I'm sure it's something we will discuss and keep an eye on here for many years to come.
Harrison Faigen: This one is easy: that he never develops into even an average defender. We all know the narrative on Okafor is that he was asked to stay out of foul trouble at Duke because the team needed him to keep its offense afloat, but what if those bad habits carry over to the pros? What if Okafor just does not have great defensive instincts? I do not think either of those things are the case, and for what it's worth I do believe Okafor projects to defend better as he develops, but it is within the realm of possibility he never does. It is nearly impossible to build an effective defense in the modern NBA if your center is not at least average on that end, so if Okafor defends as badly in the NBA as he did in college, it's hard to see the Lakers building a contender around him.
Tucker Tashjian: The most blatant flaw to Okafor is his ability to defend. Any time the Lakers would have Julius Randle and Okafor on the floor together, they would become huge liabilities defending the pick and roll. He is not inept at defending, he is just extremely polished as a post player on one end and very raw on the other. At this point he can still develop into a good defender, and that remains to be seen!
Trevor Lane: My worst fear about Okafor is that his apparent apathy on the defensive end actually had nothing to do with the system that Duke was running and everything to do with his own personal motivation. In that scenario the Lakers would have a center who can be fantastic on offense but would be a major liability on the other end of the court, and that isn't going to lead to titles. I think that's a fairly unlikely scenario though, and that it's probably a little bit of Duke's system and a little bit of his own bad habits, which means that he should end up being at least an average NBA defender.
Ben Rosales: It's all about Okafor's defense. There really isn't any other concern that comes close. For all the caveats we've put forth about why Okafor didn't play good defense last year and why it shouldn't worry us that much (was told to avoid foul trouble at all costs, was hampered because of an ankle injury that sapped his conditioning, Duke's non-Winslow perimeter defenders were utterly horrid), it certainly will take a while for Okafor to get acclimated to that end on the NBA level and actually take the necessary steps towards developing on that end. By all accounts, he has an excellent work ethic, although the list of things he needs to improve, whether it's his pick-and-roll defense, defensive rebounding, or general awareness, is considerable.
Jameson Miller: Though I'm not sure where exactly we stand at this point in the seasonal pre-draft oscillation between dissecting and defending the top prospects' flaws, the knock here is obviously Okafor's defense, and to a lesser extent, his fit in today's NBA. While I actually think much of the hand-wringing about those issues is valid, if not a tad overblown, the biggest adjustment Okafor will have to make is getting used to his sheer enormousness not being quite as pronounced on a nightly basis. He has real NBA size, but many of his rebounds were of the "I'm bigger and longer than you" variety, and his flat footed blocks won't come as easily in the pros. Also of concern is his lack of the positional versatility that's becoming so important in today's game — Okafor's a five, and a five only.
Sabreena Merchant: Obviously it's his defense. He has the size to be at least an average defender in the NBA, but he didn't show much of that potential in college. I have nightmares of seeing Okafor in the pick-and-roll switched onto a speedy wing or guard, and slowly worked into oblivion like David Lee (brief Finals renaissance aside).
The Great Mambino: As everyone has said, it's his defense, but more importantly, it's his desire and willingness to improve at it. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Al Jefferson weren't great defenders when they came into the league. Hell, even at their peaks, none of them were considered All-Defense talents. However, they learned how to emphasize their strengths in a team defensive scheme and used their natural tools to their advantage. The hope is that Okafor has that desire, if not the innate skill to defend adequately.
With the number two pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, who are you most afraid that the Lakers will take, if not Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns?
Tom Fehr: Afraid? Kristaps Porzingis, I suppose, since I don't know a ton about him other than most project him to be a four, which we already have. I would be totally fine with the Lakers taking D'Angelo Russell. In fact, I'm incredibly torn between Okafor and Russell, if that is indeed the choice.
Harrison Faigen: Emmanuel Mudiay. A lot of people would probably list Kristaps Porzingis here because of the Lakers' much leaked private workout with the Latvian import, but I actually like Porzingis more as a prospect than Mudiay. Guards without a consistent jumpshot (shouts to Rajon Rondo) tend to struggle in the NBA when not in a situation where they are surrounded by perfect spacing and are allowed to dominate the ball. The Lakers as currently constituted are not a situation where Mudiay will be flanked by shooters, and thus I am dubious of how effective he could be. Could the roster change over the next few years? It absolutely can and will. Whether Mudiay is the type of player worth deciding to build around is another issue entirely, and one that no one knows the answer to, making him a gamble not worth taking when the Lakers have more sure things available.
Tucker Tashjian: I don't think there is any wrong pick here. Any one of the top five prospects--Towns, Okafor, Mudiay, Porzingis, and Russell--have potential and can play in the league. More importantly, each one of these individuals can help the Lakers in every way necessary to return to the playoffs.
Trevor Lane: Kristaps Porzingis. Not to say that he's going to be a complete bust, but he does carry more risk than the other prospects do and his thin frame is sure to make his first few years in the NBA a struggle. To make matters worse he is a terrible fit with the Lakers as both he and Julius Randle are exclusively power forwards at this stage in their careers. While he has plenty of upside, Porzingis is not a good choice for the Lakers. The particularly scary thing is that they could be seriously considering him.
Ben Rosales: Kristaps Porzingis. I've leaned in Okafor's corner for a while now, but the possibility of D'Angelo Russell would be more or less fine in my book as well. Porzingis, however, just doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the Lakers considering that they have a pretty damn good prospect at the four already in Julius Randle. Even if you think Porzingis is a better prospect than Randle, it's just not smart asset management to take Porzingis and wreck Randle's value, and Porzingis is hardly such a better choice over the field as to justify the BPA required to make the selection.
Jameson Miller: Kristaps Porzingis. But that fear is two-sided. I am afraid that if the Lakers took Porzingis and had to watch him struggle to adjust to the physicality of the NBA while Towns, Okafor and Russell competed for Rookie of the Year, the Lakers front office would be crucified and the rebuild delayed. On the other hand, I'm afraid that if they passed on what could be a generational talent in Porzingis, the regret could be crushing. Though all of this is probably moot, as it wouldn't make a ton of sense to add to the logjam at the power forward spot. Then again, I always prefer talent over fit .... yeah, this one's tougher than people think. I don't envy Mitch.
Sabreena Merchant: This might be cheating, but I'm most afraid that the Lakers will trade the No. 2 pick this year. L.A. has two really great assets this summer: the second pick and a good chunk of cap space. If they were to trade the pick, that transaction would use both assets in one fell swoop, and I'm not sure that anyone available is even worth sacrificing a cheap Okafor for five years.
The Great Mambino: It's actually taking a point guard -- Mudiay or Russell -- over either of the big men. Everything I've read suggests to me that both Towns and Okafor are extremely rare big men, the former for his multitude of skills and the later for an already elite post offensive game. It seems that the strongest argument I've read for taking Mudiay or Russell is that "this is where the league is going". That alone is enough to give me pause. It seems that the movement to draft one of the two guards isn't really a matter of talent, but rather, a matter of fit. To me, that's not what this draft needs to be about for the Lakers. They need to take the most talented guy, regardless of whether or not he "fits" with the way the NBA is going. That's Jahlil Okafor.