It cannot be emphasized how beneficial the Lakers getting a third consecutive instance of good fortune in keeping their first rounder is to their overall rebuild, the possibility that acrimonious discussion over Lonzo Ball’s bona fides may destroy this blog, all of Lakers media and everywhere else notwithstanding.
Regardless, the pick offers clarity to the Lakers’ asset portfolio for the next few years and — barring a big trade that seems increasingly unlikely — sets the stage for a high gear offense led by D’Angelo Russell and Ball going forward.
That the Lakers kept their pick, along with recent events such as the combine and scuttlebutt from draftniks arising out of workouts and such, does change the calculus for the pick the Lakers acquired from Houston in the Lou Williams trade.
As mentioned, Ball creates an entirely new paradigm (or if you prefer, solidifies the one that Luke Walton was building toward) that the team will be operating under, and to this end, I have again enlisted UCLA fan and Lakers Outsiders writer Jerry Khachoyan to discuss how our views on the Lakers’ late first rounder have evolved since our previous discussion in March.
As with last time, we have attempted to provide context wherever appropriate, but having Draft Express, Sports-Reference, and other resources on hand to ascertain that context will be useful as you go through our conversation:
Ben: So Jerry, the events of this week have likely turned out in the best possible way from your perspective as a UCLA and Lakers fan with the latter set to close out their era of tanking by very likely ending up with Lonzo Ball on draft night. A possible shocking swerve by either the Celtics or Lakers notwithstanding, the expected turn of events is that Boston will go with Markelle Fultz and Los Angeles will make LaVar Ball a very happy man by taking Lonzo.
This does, however, force us to reevaluate our view on the Houston pick and the types of prospects that we should be considering with Ball in the fold. Such a paradigm shift comes in no small part because Ball is a highly unorthodox prospect; no small amount of digital ink has been spilled on Lakers Twitter and elsewhere about how for such a phenomenal passer and nominal lead guard, Ball does not do a lot of things we ascribe to point guards.
Ball projects as a sub-optimal pick-and-roll operator due to an underutilized or nonexistent in-between game, lacks the superlative first step necessary to break down defenses in isolation, and otherwise is going to find difficulty initiating the offense as a primary option in the half-court, at least off the bat.
Indeed, a growing consensus is that Ball is not really a point guard at all (in the limited sense that he does not adhere to the modern archetype of what the position looks like, his otherworldly court vision aside), but an off-ball guard who excels as a spot-up and cutting option and is most ideal as a secondary creator.
This even extends to the defensive end, where Ball has issues checking the point of attack against point guards but might thrive with his length and instincts against wings. All of this analysis might change as Ball continues to develop throughout his career but suffice it to say that this is the likely profile we are dealing with initially.
How this changes the draft analysis we conducted on the first round bubble a few months ago is that it renders a good chunk of the wing options we considered with the Houston pick luxury selections.
Assuming for the moment that Jordan Clarkson sticks around (a notion I hope that the front office is motivated to disabuse us of), the backcourt rotation is all but filled entirely with D'Angelo Russell leading the way at point guard (or at least, the guy who is going to initiate the offense most of the time in the halfcourt), Ball on the wing and taking up whatever remaining time at point guard when Russell is off the floor (since the team should truly stagger Russell and Ball's playing time and his foibles aside, Ball should initiate the offense with Russell off the floor if only for developmental reasons), Jordan Clarkson (as the primary sixth man), and David Nwaba eating up any remaining playing time.
As a result, any wing options the Lakers look at almost have to be swingmen capable of playing the two and three to eke out any time in the rotation, limiting the field and eliminating desirable options like Colorado's Derrick White. Thus out of necessity, we are forced to a group of options that you and I dismissed not entirely out of hand but thought lower of than the wings available on the first round bubble: shooting bigs.
With Tarik Black likely a cap casualty, there is some time that might open up in the center rotation and shooting is something bereft among a Lakers frontcourt that was 79/271 (29.2%) (including Luol Deng) from three.
Ball also puts this paucity of shooting into focus because he benefited from a starting lineup filled with either outright snipers (Bryce Alford at 43.0% on 7.5 attempts per game) or at the very least able pick-and-pop options (T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welsh). Russell probably won't be as good as Alford but he should benefit from Ball's secondary creation setting up his own spot-up opportunities.
The same can't really be said of the Lakers frontcourt barring a significant developmental leap, and putting Ball with a poor spacing lineup is likely to limit him in the same manner that Russell was limited last season.
Do you think this line of thought in moving away from wings to the frontcourt has some merit, Jerry? We briefly discussed Caleb Swanigan, Thomas Bryant, and Anzejs Pasecniks last time around, so does this paradigm shift with Ball change your view on any of these guys as options in the late first?
Jerry: Well, as you guessed, I was more than ecstatic that we not only kept the pick, but landed at No. 2 (hey, I was rooting for the top overall pick, but I'm not one to curse at the Basketball Gods for putting us at No. 2).
As you mentioned, this very likely means Lonzo Ball will have the chance to supplant Jordan Farmar and Gail Goodrich as the greatest local LA-kid who went to college in LA and played for the Lakers.
With Lonzo in the picture, that immediately sucks up a lot of playing time moving forward at the PG and SG spots. With about 2/3rds of the playing time at those positions going to either Lonzo or D'Angelo, the Lakers shouldn't really make finding a backup to them a priority, especially since Jordan Clarkson is still in the fold.
So having said that, I do agree that pure PG plays like Jawun Evans or Monte Morris are out of the picture for us. Derrick White is a little more interesting than those two, but like you said, unless Clarkson gets moved, I really don't like investing one of the few solid assets we have left (don't forget, Lakers have at best, thanks to the Calderon trade, a draft pick in the 40s next year) in someone that might not see the floor. So that leaves us with what I think are two highly attractive options: Trying to find a 3&D wing or a stretch-big man.
I am not as sold as you are on trying to draft that stretch-big. For starters, I'm not sure Tarik Black will be a cap casualty. I think the Lakers front-office likes having him around and he sounded really optimistic about being back with the Lakers next year during his exit interview. But even ignoring that, if we did have an opening, I'd rather look to fill that stretch-big need via free-agency, as there are a few options that would be attractive there (my favorite is Mike Muscala, but you also have stop gap-y options like Jonas Jarebko, Dante Cunningham, James Johnson, Mo Speights, and Kelly Olynyk).
So suffice to say, I think Lakers should try to land a stretch-big who already has experience playing in the NBA over trying to develop one through the draft (which could take years). Also, given the talk about the big man glut in this year's draft, there might be a chance LA could snag a potentially interesting prospect in undrafted free-agency and develop him through our G-league team (via the new two-way contracts).
And lastly, I think we should just force-develop Randle or Nance as our stretch bigs, as them getting minutes at the 5 spot would open minutes at the 4-spot for Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram; kind of like a positive domino effect which would then space the floor even more and make the Lonzo integration easier and his impact greater.
So as you can probably see where I'm going with this, I'm really focused on finding a wing in this draft. I just think they are super valuable in today's game. Couple that with the fact that LA has basically nobody there that can swing between the two and the three spots, I see a gaping hole there that needs to be filled as best as possible. David Nwaba might be that guy, but given that he's already 24 and can't shoot a lick, I don't see how he can play true rotational wing minutes in the NBA.
Assuming Donovan Mitchell and Justin Jackson are out of the picture, this only leaves us with a few likely options: Josh Hart, Sindarius Thornwell, Terrance Ferguson, and Semi Ojeleye with some peripheral options like PJ Dozier, Wesley Iwundu, Devin Robinson, Dwayne Bacon, Jaron Blossomgame and LJ Peak.
I could see 3 of the 4 central options I mentioned (Hart, Thornwell, and Ojeleye) eating up minutes at the 3 spot, providing some semblance of defense on the wing (where maybe we can "hide" Lonzo or D'Angelo on a non-threatening wing) while potentially providing shooting as well - and thus killing two birds with one stone.
Before we get into who we like here, do you find my argument against taking a stretch-big in the draft convincing? Do you think the importance I'm placing on the wing position (even if the guys are a little small to play the 3 full time) is proper? And lastly, if we were to take a wing, who is your favorite out of the bunch?
Ben: Overall, I think this is a rather unfortunate situation since the Lakers have at last arrived close to a critical mass of young players and have thus made picks at certain positions logistical impossibilities.
White, as we previously mentioned, is increasingly in my eyes one of the best options, if not the option, with the Houston pick if Clarkson wasn't on the roster, especially as a big guard who can work on and off ball next to both Russell and Ball. Indeed, he's an excellent foil for Clarkson as a guard who maximizes an awful lot of his so-so athleticism into production through smart play, whereas Clarkson arguably squanders a lot of it through awful defense, boneheaded decision-making and a game that begs for an ounce of conscientiousness.
My irritation that Clarkson is stopping us from accessing a number of interesting options notwithstanding, I disagree with your stretch big analysis because I think the consequences of not making a significant investment in this area could be pretty dire.
Should Randle or Nance (and Zubac as well to a certain extent) not figure things out, then you've essentially handicapped two of your three most valuable assets in Russell and Ball during a pretty critical time in their development.
If Russell is ever going to start to break out, it's this upcoming season when he finally gets that secondary creator he's desperately needed, but he and Ball (who also would benefit tremendously from playing with a starting group that doesn't have two or even three poor-to-nonexistent shooters) are going to have a hard time doing so if you're not giving them the tools they need for optimum success.
This could potentially be papered over in free agency with the options you mention, — particularly Speights, who fits a nice nexus between cost and need — but a lot of those guys are either expensive (Olynyk is a RFA, Johnson will require a trade to open up more PT to make the close-to-eight-figures-per-year investment worth it, and Muscala might be more pricey than we hope because of his age) or just not very good (Cunningham and Jerebko are bleh and will struggle mightily to crack the rotation).
Plus, if Randle and Nance each fail to figure things out next season, you'll go into an offseason in which the team will only have a mid-second rounder and an absolute requirement to focus all resources on keeping cap space open for Paul George, thus limiting the opportunities to find frontcourt options to fill the shooting void.
To be sure, internal development could render this moot through a variety of sources. Randle or Nance doing so would obviously be a godsend and drastically simplify things, although Zubac and even Ingram (who will at least cement his case for being a four more regularly going forward if he emerges as a shooter) would help significantly as well.
As an aside, this pressing need puts tremendous pressure on Black's roster spot since he doesn't help in the shooting aspect nor does he even offer value as a switching defender, so having him ride the pine while offering the team no developmental value doesn't really make any sense. Mozgov (who will play at least a little to ward off a potential locker room problem of him becoming discontented before being stretched next summer), Zubac (who might flat out eclipse Black in production next season or at the very least should play for development purposes), and Randle or Nance (the smallball five of choice) will all play ahead of him, so anyone in this roster spot either needs to push these guys for playing time with shooting/defense or be a pure developmental option.
But even if internal development hands the Lakers a gift, this doesn't necessarily invalidate the value of a stretch big since the best teams feature several of these guys, as the Warriors and Cavaliers make well-apparent. As a result, I'll focus on D.J. Wilson as an option with the Houston pick. Wilson offers shooting, rim protection, and switching defensive value in a fairly long and athletic package; he certainly seems capable of manning the five in small-ball lineups as he fills out.
Wilson is also notably younger and offers more upside than several of the wing options we've discussed, nearly all of whom are seniors and will be or will be on the verge of turning 23 when the season starts up.
Now, I don't want to head down the road of asserting that these wings don't have value, as they certainly do. Thornwell can shift between the two and three as we've discussed and skepticism raised among several draftniks about whether his shooting is real aside, he'll at least offer value as a multi-positional defender and can contribute right away.
Ojeleye garnered significantly more interest in my book after his awesome combine results and if he proved anything at SMU, it's that he can shoot from outside, so he also can contribute immediately and is a minor hedge in the stretch big department since he probably could easily play the four offensively (although it likely wouldn’t help his defensive issues).
As for Hart, I think Ball is the nail in the coffin of his potential fit in LA, as he'll probably have hell of a time trying to check most NBA threes at his size and he doesn't have Thornwell's strength and wingspan to fall back upon.
Of these guys, I still like Thornwell a lot but I could see why the team would go with Ojeleye, who offers a lot more certainty with his shooting and has the ability to fill-in as a stretch four, the latter being valuable in the worst case scenario with Randle and Nance above. In terms of looking at a wing option altogether, however, I think there's more limited utility overall in the long-term since the team's top three assets are two guards and a forward who at the moment is primarily a three.
In that sense, who the Lakers pick should be a guy who best complements these three guys and that's more likely to be a big, especially with all of the aforementioned discussion about shooting in the frontcourt.
There's also the Paul George elephant in the corner that will absolutely annihilate a giant swath of playing time on the wing, but that falls pretty squarely in the "good problems to have" area so we'll ignore it as a factor in that respect.
Going from here then, what do you think of Wilson as an option for LA in the late first? And on the whole, do you think a hard hedge against Randle and Nance both flaming out in the shooting department is necessary given what the team's offensive paradigm will look like with Russell and Ball? Lastly, are you still going to die on the Josh Hart hill or has someone like Ojeleye started to eke away at your confidence here?
Jerry: While I can appreciate the tools Wilson has and the theoretical upside as a stretch-big who can also protect the rim some, I just don't come away impressed with him due to what I feel might be a lack-of-feel for the game. Given how raw he is, you'd expect him to be much younger, but he'll be 22 half-way through his rookie year. If he's truly good right away, a la Malcolm Brogdon, that's not a bad thing necessarily (it allows the team to keep a good player through their prime on a cheaper contract). But if he stays raw and it takes him a few years to develop, now you're looking at matching a contract for a 25-year old restricted free agent that you're not sure is good or not.
As for Ojeleye, my issue with him is that he is essentially a 4. He might be able to masquerade as a 3 every now and then, and I can't see him moving up to the 5 spot, so that severely limits his usefulness. Combine that with the fact that Lakers have a logjam at that position, I don't see the point of taking him unless you really believe he can play the 3 effectively.
I heavily understand the importance of a stretch-big, and given that you think we should invest in one now, that person should start paying dividends early so as to help Russell and Ball develop even faster. I think the only way you can do that is to add a free-agent who can step in and play right away. Bring in Mike Muscala (who I'm a big fan of) or Jonas Jerebko on a two-year, team-friendly deal. When floor-stretching is needed, put them in at the 5 and go small ball (defense sacrifices, but hey, how much worse can it get?
Bringing in either guy would provide that hedge against our bigs never learning to shoot. And if that's the case, then maybe letting them go or trading them off might be the more correct move at that point unless they are providing us with something extra in another department (defense, rebounding, scoring, playmaking, etc).
And to add one more thing about the long-term need for a stretch-big: The new two-way contracts will give the Lakers the ability to really mine for one without having to use draft picks. Remember Robert Carter, Jr. from last year? He can be a guy Lakers look at. A big we expect to get drafted will probably go undrafted. Say, Alec Peters or Kyle Kuzma falls out of the 2nd round. Those are guys LA can also look to bring in and develop for the long-run.
The NBA is heading quickly towards a smaller league heavily based off analytics. We are seeing that now in the Finals with LeBron and Durant both playing center at times with shooters who can switch as their teammates. Josh Hart, while not the ideal size for the 3, isn't THAT small to play 10-15 minutes a game there. After all, about 30% of minutes played at the SF spot in the 2015-16 season were by guys 6'6 or shorter (according to some rough data calculation from Nylon Calculus).
Hart is 6'5 with passable measurements, I think he can survive there, especially as the game evolves even more. And to boot, we still have a long-term need at the backup 2 spot as well (unless Clarkson really turns things around there). I would be okay with Thornwell as well, but I feel like he is a riskier pick here because of his outlier senior season not translating to the NBA (while Hart literally looks like a Brogdon carbon-copy, at least stats-wise).
What's funny is as we've debated here, I've grown more fond of the idea of just swinging for the fences given the plethora of young guys we have already. Someone like Ike Anigbogu or Anzejs Pasecniks can be groomed in the G-League while we wait for Mozgov's contract to fall off is something I can live with. Maybe we go with an international draft-and-stash prospect like Rodions Kurucs or a complete gamble like Terrance Ferguson?
But having said all that, Lakers having this No. 28 pick is truly a nice cherry on top. Anybody we take, be it a wing, stretch-big, or a complete upside-play adds just one more element to our young-core that we can enjoy watching for years to come. So, with that said, have I convinced you to join the Josh Hart train? And what about a switching-big as our pick? Bam Adebayo and Jordan Bell are two bigs who can't shoot, but at least will help short up our defense and can essentially replace Tarik Black in the rotation while providing a little bit more upside.
Ben: Wilson is one of the few stretch bigs in the Lakers’ range who would make sense from a value perspective. Swanigan is going to struggle nightly to defend either frontcourt spot in the pros, Bryant failing to take a significant step forward in his sophomore year is worrying, and Pasecniks isn’t really a stretch big at the moment.
I do like that we’re agreeing that a high upside play makes sense due to how large the young core has become. Anigbogu would certainly be an exception here to my preference for a stretch big and it’s not entirely unrealistic that he ends up as the odd man out of the giant blob of centers in the mid-to-late first (which as an aside, I don’t really like most of the guys here) and falls to LA, albeit still unlikely overall. His age, rim protection bona fides, and overall upside (and to you, no doubt, his Bruin status) make a strong case for an outright BPA selection even if it’s difficult to imagine how to fit him and Zubac together on the same squad.
I’m not a huge fan of Ferguson, however, since his super tepid production in Australia is rather worrying, even when given the usual caveats about boys competing against men and all of that aside.
Kurucs seems like a draft-and-stash option if the front office is interested in going in that direction and he has all of the relevant tools we’d want to see in a wing prospect; if this was the direction the team was going, I’d defer to the chops of Antonio Maceiras, the Lakers’ well-regarded international scout. A similar calculus applies for Pasecniks, although as I said above, he doesn’t seem to fit the team’s needs and comes without a more overwhelming BPA argument as Anigbogu does.
Our focus here on stretch bigs has also made us overlook the switching big pair in the late first in Bam and Bell, so I’m glad you brought that up. That they don’t help the spacing issue sucks (another reason I’m sanguine on Wilson: you’re making an attempt to solve spacing and defense issues in one package) but the flip side of the coin is that the Lakers’ current stable of bigs might not ultimately pass muster on the defensive side either, Nance being the closest but he isn’t an ideal rim protector or a guy who switches onto smalls. Of these two, I’d lean toward Bell’s superior quickness and his decent passing, especially in the short roll, would play well in the Lakers’ system, but Bam, who’s two years younger than Bell, would be a sensible choice too.
If we’re moving to Bam and Bell as options though, I think we’re embracing the idea of more situational players who might not transcend what ultimately will probably be backup roles, the possibility that Bell channels his potential in turning into a defensive monster notwithstanding. To be fair, this is kind of what you have to expect in the late first but this was the appeal of the swinging for upside we discussed above.
At any rate, this would seem to put a wing option on more on equal standing with a pure switching big selection if we’re not shooting for the moon, as again we’re looking at more situational players who slide more neatly into a defined role.
In this respect, I remain more sanguine on Thornwell’s defensive prowess than Hart’s overall solid package since while Thornwell’s shooting is perhaps suspect, his defense should translate against wings big and small thanks to his strength and wingspan.
While I concur that the league is gradually getting smaller, I still think Hart is still going to have a tough time checking bigger wings and I’m ultimately going to lean in the direction of the guy who has a more pronounced singular skill than the all-rounder (then again, Thornwell’s senior numbers are stupidly good in basically every respect, so it’ll be interesting to see what parts translate).
This redefined paradigm also puts Ojeleye into an interesting light, as he’s unequivocally a guy who will help in a clear area of need with his shooting whereas his defensive issues are slightly less significant if we’re looking at backup-level guys who fill a particular role. It remains quizzical to me that such a killer athlete (seriously, his combine numbers are just nuts for a guy of his weight) is so damn bad at defense at either forward spot, so maybe bringing him out of SMU’s zone and teaching him better defensive principles might be a worthwhile gamble, but this line of thought has been the death of a ton of prospects throughout the years, particularly every Syracuse guy in the past decade or so. That Ojeleye would have to play the wing in LA due to pileup in the frontcourt only accentuates these worries.
Altogether, I’m still on board with going all-out with Wilson in an attempt to maximize upside and nab the guy who can potentially fill all of our frontcourt needs in one package. But with Jonathan Jeanne gone due to his unfortunate diagnosis with Marfan’s syndrome putting his career in jeopardy, and the board as a whole moving up (thus eliminating a guy who otherwise distinguishes himself from the center blob in the mid-first), Wilson looks increasingly unlikely to be there for the Lakers, so we’re probably going to be left with a choice between a backup wing option (Thornwell, Hart, Ojeleye) or the switching big pair (Bam, Bell).
Of these guys, Bell is probably the one I’m most comfortable gambling on, as the upside of his defensive prowess feels like a worthwhile shot to take, but I’d be okay with any selection here other than Hart (heh, sorry man).
At any rate, thanks for coming on to do this yet again, Jerry, and it’s good that you brought up stretch bigs and two-way contracts, as we’ll try to fit in another of these before the draft on this very subject.
Follow Ben on Twitter @brosales12 and Jerry @TheArmoTrader.
Which player would you take with the 28th pick?
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