Los Angeles Lakers assistant general manager Jesse Buss has had his hands full over the last several weeks as the team brings in a veritable horde of 2018 NBA Draft prospects to work out before the team is on the clock with the No. 25 and No. 47 picks.
Making those seemingly endless groups of players to sort through easier is that Buss and the Lakers front office have a clear set of skills they’re looking hardest for as they bring all of these prospects to the UCLA Health Training Center and watch countless hours of tape.
“Shooting is a premium for us right now, given that we didn’t shoot the ball too well from the free throw line or the perimeter last year, so we’re always looking to improve in that area. Also players who can just think the game, high basketball IQ players,” Buss said during an appearance on Spectrum Sportsnet. ”Another thing would be defensive ability. Guys that can switch and guard multiple positions are important to us.”
All of those skills are important in the modern NBA, the latter one especially in Luke Walton’s ideally positionless defensive system. But players with high basketball IQ are always at a premium as well, and arguably even more so next to a player like Lonzo Ball who can often spot advantages before they happen and thrives with teammates who can do the same.
However, while the Lakers are prioritizing those skills, they aren’t going to select an inferior player based on fit, as Buss made clear when asked whether or not shooting was a key for the team going forward.
”Yeah, absolutely,” Buss said. ”But at the end of the day it’s not the only thing we’re looking for, and we just want to take the best player available.”
Buss is confident that as long as the team stays focused on that, they can repeat the success they’ve had towards the end of the first round over the last couple of years with players like Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and Larry Nance Jr.
“We just want to take the best player available. A guy that can fit coach Luke’s system and can mesh well with the players we’ve drafted already,” Buss said.
Buss added that “working out as many players as possible” is important because of two-way contracts and the fact that the Lakers will be fielding two summer league teams, one for Las Vegas, and one for Sacramento.
The whole interview offered an interesting window into his and that Lakers’ draft philosophies, especially the one point he kept repeating: The Lakers aren’t overly concerning themselves with what position a player can play, or how they fit on their roster if they are clearly more talented than the rest of their contemporaries.
Looking for specific skills can allow the Lakers to break prospects into tiers or serve as tiebreakers, but at the end of the day the team just wants players who can give them the most value.
”It’s always the best player available,” Buss said.