With the 2018 NBA Draft officially in the books, I decided to turn to Silver Screen and Roll’s own main draft analysts, Ben Rosales and Alex Regla, for some grades on they feel the Los Angeles Lakers did in selecting Moritz Wagner, Svi Mykhailiuk and Isaac Bonga.
What did you think of the Lakers picking Mo Wagner?
This wasn’t necessarily a reach for Wagner since he was slated to go on the first round bubble, but it’s fair to question as to whether there were better opportunities that the Lakers forwent by taking him.
To be sure, Wagner can help, as a sweet shooting big who can move between either frontcourt spot, have enough foot speed to defend in space (in theory, although he wasn’t asked to do so a whole lot at Michigan), and most importantly, space the floor well. Pick-and-pop big man Brook Lopez helped out the Lakers’ key initiators — Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram — quite a bit last season, and Wagner projects is an even better shooter than Lopez from range. Wagner also has a surprising amount of skill in his toolbox, including an unusually good handle for a big his size, so he can attack closeouts and attack slower footed bigs off the dribble, both useful skills for the five out lineups he forms while acting as a five.
Wagner’s main issues are his lack of strength and relatively so-so athleticism that keeps him as a below-the-rim player. The lack of strength translates in his post defense, as he’ll have significant trouble checking true fives at the next level. Even bulkier fours will cause him a lot of grief. He’s also not a high jumper to compensate for this, relying on positioning and defensive smarts, and this also results in Wagner’s difficulties in finishing against length at the rim, although this is ameliorated to some extent by his skill with the ball in his hands and ability to attack closeouts.
What this difficulty at the rim does highlight, however, is that Wagner absolutely, 100% needs his shooting to translate to the league with no letdown here for his skill package to work, something that the Lakers’ FO must have had unequivocal faith in to take Wagner in the first round.
While Wagner can likely man either frontcourt spot courtesy of his foot speed, his game plays better at the five in order to form true five out lineups, so that lack of strength will be an issue, but insofar as the rotation goes, Wagner beats out both Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant as prospects and in terms of polish at the moment.
The bigger issue is that the Lakers passed on a number of options that either offered higher upside or better fit at the spot, whether Robert Williams, De’Anthony Melton, Elie Okobo, or otherwise, so either the Lakers didn’t especially appreciate the variance in such prospects or were big believers in Wagner’s talent translating.
I would be lying if I said I was not on the verge of a personal meltdown when I saw ESPN flash the nameplate: “Mortiz Wagner/F-Michigan” across the screen with the Lakers’ number 25 pick on Thursday night.
Like anyone who has had their hearts set on other prospects in the weeks, or even months, ahead of the draft and witnessed their favorite team go in an unexpected direction, I was initially crushed. Yet as the night went on and after enough time to decompress and contextualize things, Moritz Wagner began to make sense.
The Lakers entered the draft with a few criteria for the type of players they wanted to target, with a “premium” placed on perimeter shooting — an area Wagner was specifically stellar in.
On a healthy four attempts a game, Wagner shot the three ball at a superb 39.4 percent as a junior. The percentage, as impressive as it is, does not properly capture his unreal shooting numbers as well as when compared to among the rest of the NCAA last season.
Wagner was in the 100th percentile in all transition plays, 95th percentile in spot up opportunities, 85th percentile in guarded catch and shot chances, and 93rd percentile in overall half court offense compared with the rest of the draft class per Synergy.
Simply put, the dude can shoot.
Outside of the lore of his shot, Wagner also did a fine job finishing out of the pick and roll and against man coverage defenses with nimble feet and a surprising handle. The former Wolverine is also a handful on the boards, with a motor that is always running hot. One thing about Wagner that fans will absolutely adore is his energy. The young man gives a damn, and it shows.
The team may or may not also be losing center Brook Lopez in free agency, so adding a big who can provide similar perimeter spacing in the first round seemed like a necessary priority.
Where Wagner will most likely struggle at the next level, especially early on, is on the defensive end. Though not a complete train wreck, Wagner specifically struggled defending opposing post-ups. In 149 defended post-up possessions, Wagner ranked in only the 27th percentile, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 51 percent in those chances per Synergy.
Like any rookie, Wagner will need time to adjust to the next level and get stronger if he is going to eventually play center on a regular basis. The defense is a real concern, and as good as his shooting is at his position, he needs to find a way to hold his own on the other end to keep the Lakers’ first round magic streak alive.
What did you think of the Lakers picking Isaac Bonga?
Bonga is pure projection from top to bottom as a very young, lanky point forward who will need time over in Europe to hone his craft before being ready for the NBA. And this makes sense for LA since they don’t have to have him develop on their own dime and accumulate years of service on his rookie deal.
Bonga’s main intrigue comes from his ballhandling and fluidity for his size (6’8’’ with a 7’0’’ wingspan), as he demonstrates good instincts in the pick and roll and utilizes his ability to see over opposing defenses consistently to his advantage. His shooting capabilities are nascent with a rather labored form, but being able to hit over 90% of his free throws (on 110 attempts, so not quite a SSS problem) shows some good potential here.
The biggest problems for Bonga are his utter lack of strength and explosion, the former of which makes sense given his age but the latter is something that will hopefully have to come about during his physical development for him to make a mark. He’s far too easily pushed off his spots and these physical weaknesses undercut what possibly could be interesting defensive versatility, as Bonga competes decently well in straight-up defense and on the boards.
As is plain at this point, Bonga’s nowhere ready for real NBA minutes and he might be two to three years away from crossing the pond, but this is an acceptable range for him and his upside makes it a worthwhile selection, even if similar upside options in that range were more ready:
When the Lakers traded for Philadelphia’s No. 39 pick in this draft, many people (myself incuded) assumed it was in an attempt to move up in the draft. When the time came to choose, the team ultimately held on to the pick and with hometown boy De’Anthony Melton still on the board, the team chose to instead go with Bonga.
Once again my stomach turned, but like with any immediate negative reaction, time ultimately soothed all ailments. The Bonga pick, as unexpected as it was, does make some contextual sense. For a team with max player aspirations this summer, taking a possible “draft and stash” prospect not only lets that player season before bringing him over, but frees up a potentially needed roster spot.
Standing at a 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan, Bonga has the prototypical length teams covet in the modern game. The German guard/forward has also notably been praised for his flashes of impressive playmaking and creation ability from the wing position.
Not much of a permitter threat at the moment either on the catch or off the bounce, Bonga did shoot 90 percent from the free throw line in the Basketball Bundesliga last season, a common indicator of projectable range down the road.
Bonga ultimately might just be another year away from being another year away before he can handle or contribute at the NBA level. He has yet to physically fill into his length, making it hard for him to defend at an adequate level as he is often getting pushed around against more mature players.
He in so many words is the prototypical project player the team has not had in awhile, but an intriguing one nonetheless as a potential perimeter player with some defensive versatility and creation ability down the road. Just do not expect him to be a player any time soon, and that is totally okay.
What did you think of the Lakers picking Svi Mykhailiuk?
Svi is the rare four-year senior who is still a very young 21, which — aside from his shooting ability — is the biggest plus in his corner in that he could continue on an upward trajectory and show that his game was more expansive than what he was asked to do at Kansas.
Svi was largely a spot-up shooter who put the ball on the floor from time to time to attack closeouts. He was very, very good at the former and pretty bleh at the latter since a lack of explosion gave him significant difficulties finishing against contact at the rim.
While competing in European summer competitions, Svi has shown more playmaking chops than he did at Kansas (where the likes of Frank Mason, Jr. and Devonte’ Graham took the majority of the ballhandling responsibilities) and that’ll be a route he’ll have to pursue to maximize his shooting abilities since he isn’t quite that elite of a shooter off movement to otherwise pass muster in the NBA as merely an off ball shooter.
And on the other end of the floor, Svi is one of the rare negative wingspan players (shorter wingspan than height, significantly so in this case with a -3’’ differential), most of whom face significant difficulties on defense as a result. To be sure, Svi competes and even defended surprisingly well against bigger players, lending credence to some that he might even be a smalball four in some contexts and check bigger players a la Josh Hart (even if not to the extreme Hart brings it to).
That level of versatility and defensive attention is useful, but Svi was always more of a smart positional defender than an impact one and when combined with his physical limitations, this presents problems for him at the next level that he’ll have to prove won’t be issues for him. Altogether, the Lakers are hoping that Svi develops enough secondary skills to make the shooting worth it, but with options with similar shooting chops and fewer other questions (Shake Milton) or other overall pluses (Keita Bates-Diop) still available, Svi is probably the most questionable pick of the night:
My general mindset with a pick late in the second round is to find a skill. Whether it is a player who rebounds the hell out of the ball, a freak athlete, or in Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s case, a knockdown shooter.
Continuing the trend of fixing the 29th worst 3-point shooting team in the league last year, the Lakers culminated their draft by taking the Kansas sharpshooter who theoretically at the very least, can shoot it.
And shoot it he did remarkably last year.
According to Synergy, Mykhailiuk was in the 95th percentile in catch and shoot opportunities in the half court, and in the 95th percentile in jumpers off the dribble last season with the Jayhawks. That potential gravity inclusion at the next level could help open up what has been a congested Lakers’ offense.
With one of the few negative wingspans in the draft, Mykhailiuk does have good postional height at the wing position at 6’8” but his 6’6” wingspan is something to note as he was not particularly adept on the defensive end. Beside the defensive limitations, Mykhailiuk also will likely struggle with finishing around the rim at the next level as he was in the mere 16th percentile in finishing in the half court.
Mykhailiuk is exactly the type of player the Lakers needed to walk away with at the end of draft night as he not only addresses a desperate need, but potentially could do so at a close to elite level. Whether or not he could do anything else in terms of ancillary skills is still to be determined, but if his defense comes around he could serve as one of the better value picks of the draft.
Bonus full draft grade from Alex:
Something that is worth noting in terms of the general theme of this year’s draft is the archetypes in terms of how they fit two offseason outcomes. Both Wagner and Mykhailiuk do fill immediate roster needs, but they also offer potential usefulness next to a star initiator like one, LeBron James. James has historically thrived in offenses with efficient, and multiple shooters around him on the perimeter and the Lakers technically just provided that.
Whether or not this draft is indicative of what is going to happen in July is still to be determined, but on a personal level this new crop of Lakers helped me learn to sit back and contextualize before bursting into flames. At the end of the day the scouting department has earned the clout to put their necks on the lines with picks like these, and only time will tell if they once again built upon a staggeringly positive track record.
Overall draft grade: B