The shocking trade of D’Angelo Russell and the drastic paradigm shift it creates for both the team’s future and how they will perform on the court has upended what was previously a somewhat straightforward calculus going up to the NBA draft.
Lonzo Ball is still the prohibitive choice, but with Russell gone, the widely discussed fit of the two in the same backcourt has been thrown to the wind and we will quickly see whether Ball can deal with the pressure of being a lead guard on a rebuilding squad.
With this in mind, the Silver Screen and Roll staff address how they see Ball’s fit on the squad sans Russell and their final thoughts on the Lakers’ selection second overall as the draft rapidly approaches.
What is the biggest reason to pass on Lonzo Ball at No. 2?
Craig DePriester: After the trade of Russell, the Lakers appear to be locked in on drafting a point guard with the #2 pick. With that in mind, the only real reason to pass on Lonzo is that either Fultz is available or that the Lakers become incredibly high on Fox. I don't think Fultz will be there and think that Fox is a reach.
Chinmay Vaidya: The biggest reason to pass on Ball, assuming the Lakers hold on to the No. 2 pick, is whether his shooting ability will truly translate to the NBA and if he can match up defensively against either guard position. Ball connected on 41 percent of his college threes, but his low shooting motion could be a problem against skilled NBA defenders. He clearly has the shooting range, but his mechanics might need work. Ball wasn't the best defender in college and might have trouble consistently staying in front of quicker or bigger guards.
Anthony Irwin: With Russell playing alongside him in the backcourt, both players' games could have been optimized. Without a safety valve back there, the Lakers may as well trade back to grab a more prototypical point guard and build with that, versus around the potentially explosive duo that could have been.
Ben Rosales: The D’Angelo Russell trade. The main worry we had about Ball mostly revolved around how quickly he would acquire those lead guard bona fides that he doesn’t quite have yet (to what degree is debatable), but this was a largely theoretical long-term discussion since we had Russell as a safety blanket to assuage those worries and have someone to initiate the offense while Ball largely worked as a secondary creator.
Needless to say, this is no longer the case and Ball’s going to be dropped straight into the fire off the bat with no other decent lead guard of note on the roster. The team could mollify concerns here with a pickup of someone like Derrick White or Jawun Evans in the late first (presuming they keep those picks) or getting a dependable free agent option such as Darren Collison, but all of these guys don’t offer the security that Russell did for Ball’s development and things are significantly more dicey for him right now.
What is the biggest reason to take Ball at No. 2?
Craig: I'm sure people are tired of me extolling the virtues of Ball at this point, but he fits the offense and is the type of playmaker that can make everyone on the team better. He's an offensive maestro that will run the break, provide spacing in the halfcourt, and will be a competitor that will help them win games. He's not without his risks (defense, mid-range game), but he's also a potentially transformative acquisition.
Chinmay: The biggest reason to draft Ball at No. 2 is his ability to run an offense in all phases and consistently create shots for his teammates. Ball averaged 7.6 assists per game and paced UCLA's offense beautifully. His feel for the game, court vision and ability to create offense in all phases of the games makes him the ideal point guard in coach Luke Walton's system. In my opinion, Ball is the best prospect in the draft and the Lakers shouldn't hesitate in taking him.
Anthony: He still has the highest upside and would fit quite well with guys like LeBron James or Russell Westbrook should they come next summer. Even if they don't come, if he lives up to his full potential, the Lakers would have arguably the best player in the draft.
Ben: He might be a really awesome player if he figures out how to address his foibles. There are huge questions for Ball to answer, but the same is largely the case for the rest of the options available in this range, whether Josh Jackson (shooting, halfcourt scoring), Jayson Tatum (over-dependence on isolation, caught between forward spots, shooting), De’Aaron Fox (shooting, shooting, frame), or Dennis Smith Jr. (attitude, off ball chops, defense).
And of all of these guys, Ball is peerless in terms of court vision and basketball IQ, possessing a tremendous ability to read plays on both ends and react accordingly. Betting on a guy like this to figure it out is probably a good wager.
Which would be the first prospect would you take in lieu of Ball? Assume Markelle Fultz is taken first overall.
Craig: Honestly, I'm so afraid of the De'Aaron Fox becoming the second coming of Elfrid Payton because of his complete lack of shooting ability, I'd rather see Josh Jackson. To do so, the Lakers would be asserting that Jackson's 3-pointer, which looked above average for half the season, is a real thing and not a flash in the pan due to small sample size. I'm not convinced, as his form vacillates between shots and lacks the consistency that real shooters have. He will be an amazing, multi-tool defender. Is that enough to lock down the #2 pick?
Chinmay: If the Lakers went in another direction and Fultz was already off the board, De'Aaron Fox from Kentucky would be my next choice. Fox doesn't have a good shot, but he can do everything else well. He's a tenacious defender and he can create offense for himself and teammates. His driving ability will provide plenty of opportunities for shooters, although the Lakers don't have many of those at the moment.
Anthony: As I said above, I'd prefer to move back and grab either Fox or Dennis Smith, Jr. On top of all the fit issues a wing or wing/forward combo might bring, those guys are frankly more interesting prospects.
Ben: Dennis Smith, Jr. If you’re overly concerned by how Ball works without Russell, then moving down for Smith is probably the right call. The Lakers are now utterly bereft of a lead guard and Smith is probably the highest upside play in the draft behind Fultz as a highly athletic guard who can score at all three levels and run an offense.
Smith has intangibles questions, as he loafed off on defense to a somewhat unconscionable extent and hoisted some bad shots at NC State, but no one in this top group can match the athleticism and skill set combination that he brings to the table. Where Ball is unorthodox, Smith is profoundly the modern image of what a lead guard is supposed to look like.
Do you think that the Lakers will ultimately select Ball in the draft?
Craig: Yes please. After trading Russell, don't screw me twice in the same week Magic.
Chinmay: Yes. With the D'Angelo Russell trade happening and the possibility of Paul George coming to LA, the Lakers will take Ball.
Anthony: Yup. He's been the guy since day one. They sent out Russell in part to clear the way for him, per a couple reports. He's still a great prospect, even if we were robbed of one of the most interesting backcourts in recent memory. Thanks, Magic.
Ben: In the end, yes. He fits the system, he fits the city, and perhaps most prominently in the mind of a front office apparently fixated on getting stars, he fits next to pretty much any high usage star player in the league like a glove. The team has made an awful amount of noise about possibly going elsewhere, but it would still be surprising to see them not going with Ball.