EL Segundo — When the Los Angeles Lakers hired Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to run their front office as president of basketball operations and general manager, respectively, one of the first things to two did was sit down and try to answer the question: What makes a player a Laker?
“How do we define the DNA and the makeup of the guys that get the opportunity to wear the purple and gold?” Pelinka said during an interview on ESPN’s Mason and Ireland.
Pelinka said he and Johnson spent a whole day with their sleeves rolled up, sitting around discussing what qualities imbue a player with “Laker greatness.”
He didn’t reveal what they came up with, but it’s hard not to think of that story when watching 2018 NBA Draft prospects run through the “Lakers Mentality” drill at the end of the pre-draft workouts for the team.
Every Lakers fan has seen videos of the sessions on social media, in which draft hopefuls try to score as many layups, jumpers and threes in a 90 second period as they from one end of the court to the other. Layups are worth one point, jumpers are worth two points, and threes are worth, well, three.
Whether it’s LiAngelo Ball struggling to a score of 15 or Grayson Allen dropping a 21, the team has put every set of prospects through the exercise at the end of all of their pre-draft workouts.
Here is Devonte' Graham and Josh Okogie going through the "Lakers Mentality" drill at the end of their workout pic.twitter.com/CZpCZomeGa— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) May 31, 2018
After his Lakers workout earlier this month, SMU guard Shake Milton said Pelinka told the that day’s group of players that the drill was designed to see how they behaved while they were fatigued, to weed out prospects who would be too tired when it was crunch time.
In other words, the Lakers’ mentality is a winning mentality, and as cliche as that may be, the front office is using this pre-draft drill to try and find players that are ready to help them win now.
For players like Wichita State guard Landry Shamet and Penn State guard Tony Carr, who are ESPN’s 53rd and 56th-ranked prospects in the draft, respectively, and are thus right on the cusp of being a candidate for the Lakers’s No. 47 pick, it’s a drill that could help differentiate themselves from the pack.
Here are Tony Carr and Landry Shamet doing the "Lakers Mentality" drill pic.twitter.com/gQekVToz8t— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) May 31, 2018
All eyes are on the two players doing the drill at once on the Lakers’ parallel practice courts, for all intents and purposes pitting them in a race against each other to see who can do better going end-to-end, with wall-mounted scoreboards broadcasting their level of success or failure for everyone in the gym — and on social media — to see.
It’s the only part of the workout in which members of the front office can only realistically have their eyes in one place, and if that weren’t enough pressure, it’s the only part of the sessions done in front of the media and their cameras that broadcast any failures to the world.
”When you miss a shot it’s easy to be like, ‘Ah, man, I missed a shot,’ Shamet said. “But you’ve got to keep going.”
Shamet said the Lakers were only the second team he had worked out for, so he didn’t have many other drills to compare the “Lakers Mentality” one to, but that it was the only drill like it he had done so far.
Carr — who called it the hardest part of a workout he didn’t feel was that difficult overall — said that the “Lakers Mentality” portion of the day has gained a certain notoriety among draft prospects, and that word is getting around to be ready for it.
”That was one of the toughest drills. You hear players talking about it with the Lakers, so you’re able to mentally prepare yourself,” Carr said. “I was a little bit prepared and ready to go at it.”
Still, even though Carr knew it was coming, the drill did what it’s designed to do: It wasn’t easy.
“It being the last drill and having to run full court was difficult,” Carr said.
Listening to sweat-soaked prospects talk about being put through a physical ringer to test which ones have the will to win makes it impossible not to remember that Pelinka was once the agent of Lakers legend and cutthroat competitor Kobe Bryant, to visualize Bryant’s influence on Pelinka and the organization, and make it seem like finding players of his basketball mindset is what the drill is really about.
Whether that’s true or not is unknowable, and it’s probably impossible to find a player with Bryant’s Mamba Mentality anyway. Still, the exercise might at the very least allow the team to find players with the right psychological makeup to push through fatigue, fully mine their potential, outperform their draft stock and help the team climb back towards the standards of greatness that it has always been held to before the last several years.
In fact, the drill appears to be aptly named, because it appears what the front office is looking for is exactly what it’s called.
They’re looking for Lakers mentality.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, or support his work via Venmo here or Patreon here.