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Jesse Buss reveals secret behind Lakers’ late-draft success

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Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The 2018 NBA draft is a little over a month away and while the Los Angeles Lakers won’t have their own pick because of the infamous Steve Nash trade in 2012, they will still have a first round pick after acquiring the Cleveland Cavaliers’ pick at the trade deadline.

There was a time in the regular season it looked like the Cavaliers’ pick might slip into the late teens, but a 14-6 run to close the season kept Cleveland’s pick in the mid-20s. For some teams, that might not sound like an ideal spot to be picking, but for the Lakers it’s more than enough to work with.

In the last four years, the Lakers have had luck selecting late-draft gems in Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, all with picks outside of the top-20. One thing all of these players have in common? They spent more than one year in college, which Lakers general manager Jesse Buss said isn’t a negative when evaluating draft prospects.

In an interview with Lakers sideline reporter Mike Trudell, Buss explained his secret to sniffing out draft day steals, which he attributes to his understanding of upside in players, even the ones that aren’t “one-and-done.”

A lot of times, I believe fans of basketball get infatuated with younger players, typically freshman that are 18 or 19. ‘Upside’ is the big word. How much better can this guy get? And it’s a fair argument, because a lot of times, you’re not looking at a guy who’s really perfected his craft or has really developed. In terms of juniors like Kuzma and seniors like Josh, they’re a little more polished and you know what you’re getting usually, but at the same time, there has been a lot of growth over the year with teams who have drafted juniors and seniors that have gotten better. I think Golden State proved that*. These guys weren’t just finished (developing) once they were drafted and that’s as good as they were going to get. Clearly, a lot of those guys got a lot better. You’ve seen it with a lot of teams who have drafted guys that are upperclassmen and had success with them. And for Josh and Kyle to come in right away and show what they did, it’s a sign of encouragement. People might say they were supposed to do that because they’re older than freshman, but playing in the NBA is completely different from college, and really any sign of success you show shouldn’t be just taken with a grain of salt. Those guys really did a great job for us this season.

In the above quote, Buss uses the Golden State Warriors as an example for why teams shouldn’t be afraid to take players with more experience at the collegiate level. The Splash Bros. — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — each played three years of college hoops, while Draymond Green utilized all four years of his NCAA eligibility.

Does that mean the next Splash Bro will be on the board when the Lakers are on the clock on June 21? Perhaps not, but the Lakers’ and the Warriors’ success with seasoned veterans debunks the notion that older players in the draft have already reached their ceiling.

With a wealth of young talent, the Lakers can afford to gamble on younger, unproven prospects, but don’t be surprised if they go with a more proven player again this year.