The Los Angeles Lakers may have the second overall pick in the NBA Draft for the second consecutive year, but that is about the only similarity for the team on draft night. When the Lakers are on the clock on June 23rd, their decision will likely be to select whichever of the Ben Simmons/Brandon Ingram pair at the top of the draft the Philadelphia 76ers don't take.
Last year the team's draft situation was much more fluid. It was (correctly) assumed by nearly everyone that the Minnesota Timberwolves would select Karl-Anthony Towns first overall, but after that the Lakers' choice was a wild card. Some thought they would select Jahlil Okafor out of Duke, while others believed the team might take guard D'Angelo Russell, or even shock the world by taking the little-known (stateside, at least) Kristaps Porzingis.
The Lakers ended up going with Russell, but according to Phil Jackson, the team should have taken Porzingis. The New York Knicks president shared with MSG Network that he told them as much before the draft (as transcribed by Dan Feldman of NBC Sports):
"We knew that he had a lot of talent. We saw that even in the workout with him shooting. And I had some fun with one of the Buss guys, and I told him after the workout: "You guys are going to be sorry if you don't pick up Porzingis with the second pick." They didn't, we did."
Last year that was true... Maybe. Porzingis did have a better overall season than Russell, that much isn't really a debate, but there were mitigating factors. The Knicks outscored their opponents by 0.2 points per 100 possessions with Porzingis on the floor while the Lakers were outscored by 13 every 100 possessions in Russell's minutes, but part of that disparity is the situation the two were in.
While Porzingis was playing alongside helpful veterans and a star in Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers' starters (with whom Russell played a large bulk of his minutes) were one of the worst units in the NBA, and the group was outscored by 24 points per 100 possessions while Kobe Bryant chucked away in a space-starved offense and Roy Hibbert is still falling down somewhere on defense. They were also the Lakers' most frequently used lineup by over 300 minutes, playing 572 to the next group's 221. Good work, Byron.
Russell didn't necessarily solve any of those problems himself, but he did show promise when given opportunities to succeed as a lead guard later in the year, and there is reason to hope he can improve in his sophomore season under a new head coach.
Jackson surely made these comments with his stereotypical dry wit, but it's still weird to hear him taking sort of public shots at his former organization.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.