Anyone who has ever gone grocery shopping when they’re hungry knows how bad of an idea doing so is. You buy too much of things you’re craving because they sound good, and then you get home and remember you don’t have enough room for it, or that you don’t have time to cook a five-course meal every night for the next week and now all of this produce is going to go bad.
That reality makes the way the Los Angeles Lakers have had so much success in the NBA Draft over the last several seasons all the more impressive. Starting in 2014 and until last season, the Lakers were positively starved for young talent, and somehow managed not to draft any obvious reaches that looked good because they had a hankering for a specific position, but turned out to be wild strikeouts.
The team hasn’t been flawless in the draft — hello, Anthony Brown and (maybe) D’Angelo Russell (although he got them out of the Timofey Mozgov contract at least) — but for the most part they’ve found value with just about all of their picks in just about as impressive of a run of drafting as any team has ever had.
The fruits of those labors were obvious last season. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Josh Hart helped the Lakers win their most games in years, while Thomas Bryant looked incredible during G League burn.
Iviza Zubac didn’t progress much, but Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson contributed to the Lakers’ winning ways before getting jettisoned to the Cleveland Cavaliers to clear salary and add a draft pick, something the Lakers wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do had those players went bust.
With all of those promising young players in hand and the Cavaliers’ first round pick, the Lakers are finally faced with an interesting draft dilemma: Now that they no longer have to draft for any one, glaring need at the tail end of the first round, should they take a swing with that pick and gamble on a more questionable player with higher upside? Will they trade the pick?
They have enough assets now to feel free to try either. With Kuzma (power forward), Ingram (small forward), Hart (shooting guard), Ball (point guard and Bryant (center) all at the very least — and to varying degrees — looking like future role players at those positions, the Lakers don’t have to try and draft for fit, because no matter what type of player they draft, they’re not going to have an obvious spot where they can slide in to play a role right off the bat.
Bryant’s spot might be the one that people could argue is up for grabs. Bryant probably isn’t a shoe-in to start or anything next year, but he would seem to have the inside track on minutes at center over a rookie if Luke Walton is going to role with a young player at the five.
However, it’s worth noting that the Lakers haven’t necessarily drafted for fit before, with Kuzma especially coming in behind Nance and Randle as an obvious “best player available” candidate, while Ball was even drafted while the Lakers had another point guard at the time.
But now that all of their young players appear to be panning out, the front office can really swing at the type of high-risk, high-reward gamble they’ve mostly stayed away from over the past few seasons.
This isn’t to say the Lakers have so many promising young players that they can simply throw a pick away — teams can never have enough talented, cheap contributors with room to grow. However, it just means the team is free to put position as the last factor in their minds when targeting who they want to select, where in the past they have had roster needs to fill just about everywhere.
The Lakers’ cupboards being so well-stocked also gives the team the opportunity to use their first and/or second-round picks to grease the wheel for a trade, either for a superstar or to move Luol Deng’s salary in order to sign that type of player.
Regardless of what they do, it’s clear that the Lakers finally have options. They can head into the draft knowing that any talent they manage to mine in the first or second round is gravy, and they can therefore being a little more creative with how they try to get value out of their selections since they are no longer heading to the store so talent-starved.
All stats per sports-reference.com. A full list of every prospect we know the Lakers have worked out is available here. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, or support his work via Venmo here or Patreon here.