The events of the last few months for the Lakers, whether it has been Luke Walton's hiring, keeping their pick, or otherwise, has brought a significant amount of clarity to the team's position moving forward this offseason, nearly all of it for the better.
This turn of events, however, has not done any favors for those trying to figure out who the front office might favor with their early selection in the second round at #32, and as such, I've once again enlisted the services of Jerry Khachoyan to give our thoughts on the final positions of our boards before the draft.
Our previous discussion may be found here, and we encourage liberal usage of Google and Draft Express to resolve several of your questions as to our underlying assumptions and arguments. In any case, without further ado:
Ben: So since we last came together to take stock of the Lakers' draft situation, we've had quite the seismic change in the team's fortunes. In what is arguably a two-player draft, the Lakers will be all but assured to walk away with one of those two elite talents, a tremendous boon to a rebuilding process that already received a significant shot in the arm due to the firing of Byron Scott and the installation of Luke Walton as his replacement.
You and I have bantered quite a bit throughout about the top of the draft, but suffice it to say that any debate as to the merits of Ben Simmons against Brandon Ingram has essentially been rendered moot, especially in light of recent reports that the Lakers are expected to end up with the latter since Philly is set on Simmons.
As such, the intrigue around the top pick has all but evaporated and analyses of how Ingram might fit into the Golden State paradigm Luke is bringing over from Oakland basically boil down to "Ingram fits well in all systems and especially this one, kthnxbai."
This paradigm shift, however, still holds some relevance for who the Lakers might pick with their second rounder at #32. In our last (highly entertaining) discussion, I settled on Purdue's A.J. Hammons and you went with Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku. For your part, has the events of the past few months, whether it's the tourney, combine, Luke's hiring, the Lakers keeping the pick, or otherwise, changed your calculus of who you might go with at #32? To wit, we should try to define what the new paradigm of a team that more likely than not will have both Ingram and Luke on June 23 will look like, and how this might affect the team's thought process, whether to go safe, balls out for potential upside, or something else entirely, at #32?
For the purposes of this discussion, we'll default to the current version of the Draft Express mock to stay consistent, although I should say that the Lakers are smack dab in the middle of what might be a very fluid group between the late first and early second.
Jerry: As you mentioned, keeping the 1st round pick has really brightened the future of the Los Angeles Lakers. LA is guaranteed to walk away with either Ben Simmons or more likely, Brandon Ingram. Ingram certainly is a seamless fit with the current Lakers' core. The Lakers had a massive gap on the wing, and more particularly, at small forward. Drafting Ingram would alleviate this massive need.
Ingram projects to play major minutes at small forward, and when necessary and possible, as a small-ball 4. He'll help complete this puzzle of rebuilding by providing shooting and defense on the perimeter, and some playmaking & scoring when needed.
So between the time of our last conversation and now, I believe the aspect that has changed the most is the retaining of the pick. We all kind of expected Byron to be gone and for a competent coach to be put into place. And while the combine, tourney, and any new information since our last conversation is important, it is only a small piece of the puzzle, barring major red or green flags.
So all in all, when looking at the 32nd overall pick, while BPA (Best Player Available) still holds true, in case someone with a higher "draft stock" was to slip, I think targeting need with the 2nd rounder makes a little more sense.
Why? As much as we want to nail diamonds-in-the-rough, say like a Marc Gasol or Paul Millsap, it's more likely that you are going to draft someone who is more of a role player outside the top-20. In the "Kobe era" (1996 to 2016), the number of players to be drafted in the 2nd round to make an All-NBA team or an All-star game is 14. Roughly about 550 players have been drafted in the 2nd round at the same time. Granted, some recent draftees will probably add to that number, but regardless, we are still talking about a very small percentage.
Why do I think that stat is important? Because it would then be wise to look for prospects with high likelihoods of turning into role-players. With Russell and Ingram on board, I think LA has the "potential all-stars" box covered. What LA needs to focus on here on out is building a proper team around those guys specifically. Looking at the roster, more wing help would be welcomed, depending on your view of Anthony Brown. But the biggest hole by far is the center position. Looking at our list of potential prospects, there are only 7 guys that would then qualify to a certain degree: Chinanu Onuaku, AJ Hammons, Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo, Thon Maker, Diamond Stone, and Zhou Qi.
Looking at that list, automatically I see two groups. The first group consists of Onuaku, Hammons, Zimmerman and Stone. The second group consists of Diallo, Maker, and Qi. The former showed it can produce meaningfully. The latter are pure upside plays. So I would cross the latter group off the list. That leaves us with group one.
While I can appreciate Stone's upside (and really cool name), and he did produce meaningfully to a certain degree, I would cross him off because of his questionable fit in today's NBA and this roster.
This leaves us with Onuaku, Zimmerman, and Hammons - all of whom are still on the board for the Lakers at #32 according to the latest DX mock draft. All three would be worthy picks. But I think I'm going to stick with my guy, Onuaku, as the choice.
Since our last talk, NBA Draft Twitter has fallen in love with Chinanu. Hammons is the most ready of the bunch, but I again remain skeptical of him due to age. He will be 24 years old on opening night. Looking at a list of centers in the Kobe era who were 24 years or older in their rookie seasons, you find a bunch of underwhelming names (aside from the 1 outlier of Marc Gasol). A lot of fringe/backup names populate the list. So I'm not jumping up and down about Hammons.
This of course leaves us with Zimmerman vs Onuaku. I'd be happy with either, especially since the former was rated a mid-first round pick the whole year. But I think Onuaku would better fit the core. Zimmerman is skilled, and has a decent upside, but it's my view (and I could be wrong here), that LA needs an "enforcer" type player.
Russell and Ingram are pretty laid back, Clarkson is somewhere in between, and Randle has a nice competitive motor. To me, outside of Onuaku's clear attractiveness (youth, decent traditional and advanced stats, measurements & frame), this is something that I think this young group lacks. And to boot, I think he'll be a good fit in Luke's system as I've been comparing him to Ezeli for awhile now. Now, Chinanu had a minor heart issue recently, but according to reports, it's not anything serious. If anything, that heart problem is the reason he falls to the Lakers at 32. And remember, it wouldn't be the first time the Lakers dealt with a 2nd round draftee with a heart issue.
So Ben, do you see any shortcomings in my analysis? Am I focusing too much on need and maybe fit over BPA? Is there some type of outside factor or aspect that I might have missed that might be blinded by clear bias for Onuaku?
Ben: I agree to the extent that need certainly can be a primary consideration at #32, as at that point, issues of roster fit and construction play a significant role in whether that draft pick will ultimately have any sort of impact. To compare, BPA concerns are predominant at the top of the draft since the relevant talents involved are considerable enough to overcome any issues of fit, especially for the quality of the team rosters usually involved in that range.
I doubt that you, I, nor anyone else would bat an eye if the Lakers took Ben Simmons at #2 should Philly have a change of heart and go with Ingram instead. The entire litany of issues for why Simmons might have a tough time fitting with Randle are rendered moot when faced with the reality of his sheer talent (and how Luke might be an ideal coach for figuring out how to integrate him, but I digress). For a guy taken at #32, on the other hand, he very likely doesn't have the talent to overcome the simple reality that should the roster situation be unfavorable to his skill set or position group, he's simply not going to get a whole lot of playing time. Brice Johnson, for instance, might be the BPA on the Lakers' board at #32, but it makes little sense to pick him because he's not going to beat out Randle and Nance for playing time, even if you move any of the three up or down a position group.
As for how this applies to your strategy for picking within the position groups that make sense under this paradigm, I'm not quite ready to jump to the "find higher role player potential" ship yet. Let's start with the center group you've brought up, as while I concur that this is probably the principal nexus between BPA and need insofar as our options at #32 go, I don't think we necessarily have to abandon our search for upside so thoroughly along the way. I know you probably just brought up the ASG/All-NBA numbers for second rounders in the past twenty years as a shorthand, but it's important to remember there's a pretty wide spectrum of "good player" that that label doesn't quite capture. Moreover, the Lakers are picking very early in the second round in a draft that's being praised for its sheer depth -- you and I were just recently remarking on how many interesting UDFA options will be available -- so I'd give Mitch and co. a bit of credit in their ability to spot the diamond in the rough here.
Also, while the notion of filling the center spot immediately has its merits to help the kids and Luke's transition, a developmental prospect isn't necessarily the end of the world, as not only will he likely get valuable playing time in what still will be a rebuilding year (save with hopefully, a lot more wins than the last three), we still have other options to look at in FA or on the roster (read: Black) to fill the void in the meantime.
Insofar as who that might be, your seven names sound about right, although Ante Zizic and Ivica Zubac could conceivably be available too. Nevertheless, for the sake of discussion, let's go with your group, in which I think your biggest omission from your final consideration is Diallo. We both know that "meaningful" production is such a fraught word to throw around with 18- and 19-year-olds, as while production at that age is certainly a big plus -- it's a significant feather in Ingram's cap, for instance -- a lack of production isn't necessarily a death knell either. This is especially the case for someone with a host of caveats to throw around like Diallo, who was jerked around by the NCAA and Bill Self for the entirety of his freshman season.
Diallo's projected skill set mirrors a lot of the things you like in Onuaku, except Diallo's arguably even more athletic -- better vertical, agility, and sprint scores -- and has been praised for quite a while now for having an unquenchable motor. With this in mind, is he really an inferior selection to Onuaku simply because there were a host of factors beyond his control preventing him from getting more playing time at Kansas? You'd be right to say that by the same token, Onuaku should be praised for having an actually productive season, but Diallo might offer a higher upside play that gives you a lot of the things Onuaku does and that's a leap of faith that the Lakers can afford given their current roster situation.
I should say that none of this should be construed to say that Onuaku is a bad choice -- quite to the contrary, several of the reasons you've mentioned are fantastic reasons to pick him -- but rather that your logic shouldn't invalidate other perfectly fine options. To wit, I'd support Zimmerman as my preferred choice of the bunch over Onuaku since if we're really looking at what type of player to pair with this current core, Zimmerman checks all the available boxes. He's mobile and fluid enough to work in the pick-and-roll, has sufficient length and quickness to be a back-end defender, and perhaps his most defining trait of the center group (save for Hammons and Zhou, but Zimmerman is four years younger than the former and the latter's a draft-and-stash guy who I think Zimmerman is better than regardless), has the potential to stretch the floor.
The last item is particularly important since it opens up a dimension for Zimmerman on offense that Onuaku lacks, and helps him avoid Onuaku's downside of being a guy who might have a lot of trouble producing on that end at the next level. In any case, I'm not sure we're far enough in this group's development to really ascertain if they require an "enforcer" type, and regardless, I think the label is a bit tired and used too often as a shorthand for guys who are vocal and have high motors. More to the point, I don't think it's really a valid factor to be considering in this analysis; while "toughness" is often thrown about in the same context, I don't think that's an issue for any of the names we're discussing here.
Now, a lot of this discussion so far has (justifiably) been geared toward the crop of centers available at #32, but I don't think it particularly outlandish that the team goes with a guard or a wing, even with Ingram being the likely choice at the top of the draft. Would you be fine with the upside of a DeAndre Bembry, Pat McCaw, or Malik Beasley should they be available at the spot?
Conversely, the Lakers very well could have taken your logic to its natural conclusion, except applying it to other position groups, so lower-upside-but-high-role-player-potential options like Malcolm Brogdon, Paul Zipser, and Gary Payton II could also be some of the names we see bandied about on draft night.
I personally find the former group significantly more enticing, but it seems that your logic would push us toward the latter group. In addition, has the passage of time changed your view on potential draft-and-stash options at #32? Zhou is the most significant name to appear in this calculus since then, although Cordinier could similarly be thrown into the mix there as well.
Jerry: With regards to the BPA vs need discussion at #32, you really nailed it on the head. The marginal difference in value between say, in this example, a Brice Johnson and the next available player isn't as big as it would be in the early first round.
Needs and fits should come into heavy consideration when taking a player at #32, again, barring a crazy unexpected drop in a player ranked highly in most mock drafts.
As for the upside vs role player conversation, it is funny how our tunes have changed since our last chat. I was the one looking for players with more upside and you were the one being grounded and looking at more established options like Hammons and Payton II. But as with a lot of things, I think the answer here probably lies somewhere in between. You don't want to draft a guy whose ceiling is just a 15 minute-per-game 10th man (that's what undrafted free-agency is for), but you also don't want to draft a guy who'll be out of the league in 3 years because, as "upside-y" as he looked we you took him, he just didn't know how to play basketball.
So, as for the points you brought up in the Diallo discussion, while I think they are totally valid (it's hard to blame him for his lack of production), the reality is that he didn't produce anything. I'm pretty big on using recent sample data in projecting players. For Diallo, we really don't have any. We're going off ~200 minutes in college, and any other (now) outdated film. He's for sure a valid pick at 32, I wouldn't be mad. But he's a project and his floor, based on the evidence we have, is lower than Onuaku's, while I don't think his ceiling is THAT much higher. That's the great thing about Chinanu. He's really young for his class (in fact, he's the 14th youngest prospect in the DX top-50 and is younger than many star freshman), but he's shown decent production, where you can reasonably project a floor on him.
As for Zimmerman, he is a completely fine option, and in fact, if Onuaku is off the board, he'd be my #1 option in all likelihood (maybe if he went to UCLA instead of UNLV, he would've already been higher than Onuaku....I kid). He has the potential to stretch the floor, and be a decent plus on the defensive side. You really can't ask for much more from your center. And while I know "toughness", "soft", etc are thrown around WAY too often, I do think it does matter when building a team. You look at the Warriors and Bogut, he is their "enforcer". You don't want to get guys who are too similar, or else you risk building a certain weakness about your team.
The Lakers can certainly take a wing, and I'd be totally fine with that as well. In this day and age, having multiple guys who can play the 2 and 3 positions doesn't hurt (especially if they can guard 4s and/or 1s). You see it, not coincidentally, with the Warriors. Bembry would be a home run pick at 32, but I doubt he falls there. McCaw and Beasley are fine risks. Both are athletic enough and shot decent enough to warrant such a high selection in the 2nd round.
On the subject matter of upside-vs-role players, I think it doesn't come into much play here because the former group of players you mentioned actually produced in college. And while I'll be fine with (see a trend here? LA is in a great position to pick a solid player at 32) Brogdon, Zipser, and even Payton II, I'd prefer they went a little more risky with the pick just because those guys' ages are really up there, with Zipser (who I strongly believe LA will take) being the youngest at 22 ½ on opening night.
And lastly, I'm still not a big fan of the draft-and-stash for two reasons. One, I want that player to grow with the team. And two, there are just so many good options available, to take a player, because you want to save more cap space or the roster spot (IF that is the reason of course), it just wouldn't be wise.
To finish off our discussion, with about a week left until the draft, who are your top 3 reasonable options and who do you think the Lakers actually go with? I'd rank mine (be prepared to be surprised) as Chinanu Onuaku, Stephen Zimmerman, and Malik Beasley. While I think the Los Angeles Lakers either go with AJ Hammons or Paul Zipser.
Ben: Woo boy, I have no idea how to read what the team will do. Save for not picking power forwards, we really have no good read what considerations might be guiding the front office at this time. They've hedged toward upperclassmen with relatively lower ceilings as of late, although you could argue that Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr. were bigger upside plays than we give them credit for. This is also the same front office that picked up underclassmen Darius Morris, Javaris Crittenton, and Devin Ebanks, among others, so what conditions they view as appropriate for gambling on higher upside options or not is rather unclear.
With that in mind, I think it safe to default to a standard board as it would be in a vacuum, save for the caveat excluding fours from the discussion. I'll also concur with your suggestion (both here and in the last discussion) that a draft-and-stash guy doesn't really make sense considering that whoever they pick at #32 has a very good chance of being part of next year's rotation, so unless the payoff is considerable -- and I don't think any of the draft-and-stash guys falls into that category -- it probably isn't worth all the time and effort. Lastly, your comment that the tables seem to have flipped in terms of the upside vs. floor discussion is spot-on, and at least from my perspective, has to do with my increasing comfort with the options available at #32. I was originally either skeptical of the higher upside options or unconvinced that they would fall to #32, and now I'm genuinely excited about whoever the Lakers might pick at the spot.
As such, I'd go with a top three of Zimmerman, Onuaku, and McCaw. We've covered Zimmerman and Onunaku at length, so let's turn to McCaw, whose two-way upside is really appealing to me. Depending on what you think about Anthony Brown, the Lakers don't really have anyone who projects as capable defensively against guards, and that could be McCaw in spades, in addition to his possible offensive upside as a secondary creator. This two-way utility raises him above Beasley in my book, although they are both worthy upside options in that range. That said, I wouldn't be totally opposed to a Zipser or a Brogdon, particularly since if you're going to aim for floor in this range, you might as well get someone who will provide value on both ends.
And there's the rub for our analysis here, in that if the younger, high upside options have become "safer," the high floor ones seemingly have as well, especially with Luke onboard. Luke will have his issues adjusting to the position and the roster, but we can be reasonably confident that he won't dramatically misuse anyone he picks, so a Hammons, Brogdon, or a Zipser will all likely end up with roles commensurate with their skill set. Should the front office be reasonably confident that a high floor guy will translate in certain aspects of his skill set, they will also likely be confident that Luke will employ these guys properly and get a fair amount out of them. Compare this to a more volatile prospect that might give you more under Luke, but similarly, could flame out in a way that the high floor guys would not. I'm not particularly fond of this formulation since I think the younger guys have a high enough chance of panning out as to make it worth the effort, but this could be how the team is viewing the field on draft night.
Even so, predicting this front office is difficult as previously noted, and I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised on draft night, as there really is a giant field of possibilities -- perhaps even more than at #27 and #34 combined last year -- available to the team. Moreover, after last year's selection of Nance, I'm also prepared to give Mitch and co. a greater benefit of the doubt this time around. If I was to throw a dark horse into the mix, I'll go with Mega Leks' Rade Zagorac, who profiles as an offensively versatile wing with length who has enough length to be passable defensively in the future. One of several NBA prospects on Mega Leks, Mitch and co. have no doubt had plenty of opportunities to watch Zagorac in action and he combines youth (20) with a level of offensive sophistication that nearly all of the names we've mentioned would find difficult to match. Indeed, that I can throw in a name that's gone practically unmentioned in the entire breadth of this and our previous discussion is testament to the depth of the draft in this range and an indication of what should be an exciting time on Thursday.