The Los Angeles Lakers received the second overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, their second consecutive year landing in that draft slot. This year is a totally different situation than the last one, however. This year the Lakers will in all likelihood select Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, whichever player is left after Philadelphia makes the first overall selection.
The 2015 NBA Draft was less clear cut, with eventual unanimous Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns as the clear top overall pick followed by several players like D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, and Kristaps Porzingis all being debated at second overall. The Lakers eventually chose Russell, but according to their former head coach Byron Scott, the decision was closer than many people might think.
"I still think we would take D'Angelo," said Scott on the Dan Patrick Show. "Probably so." Having said that, Scott also sounded like he was really impressed with Porzingis as well, and revealed that had he been in better shape for his workout that the Lakers might have selected him.
"I'll tell you what, that kid [Porzingis] has an upside that's unbelievable," said Scott. "He's 7'3, and again, when we had him in to work out he wasn't in great shape at that particular time You just didn't see all of this. You knew the kid could be good but you thought he would be good in three to four years, you didn't think he'd be good this year, this early."
When prodded further by Patrick as to how close the Lakers were to taking Porzingis, Scott elaborated.
"Yes. [the discussion of whether or not to take Porzingis was] pretty close," said Scott. "Like I said, he just came in town, he was pretty worn out after like 20 minutes. So you just didn't get a chance to see everything he's capable of doing until the season started and we saw him in the summer league. I said 'whoa, this kid's going to be good.' So there was serious discussion about him, and probably if he'd have been in great shape, then there would have been even more serious discussions about him."
There were rumors leading into the draft that the Lakers were fairly enamored with Porzingis' potential, but Scott's comments line up with the Lakers reasoning for not selecting him being that they were worried about how long it would take him to develop. While that has ended up being more of an issue for Russell than it was for Porzingis, it's hard to definitively say after one season whether or not the Lakers made the right or wrong choice.
Porzingis obviously had a much better rookie year, but Russell showed plenty of flashes of the potential that led the Lakers to take him second overall throughout the season. It's newsworthy that the Lakers almost took the Latvian prospect, but now they just have to hope Russell finishes a lot better than he started. Following a coaching change coupled with some natural growth as a player as he ages, that seems like a safe bet.
All quotes transcribed via the Dan Patrick Show. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.