The Los Angeles Lakers have been linked almost exclusively to guards so far as they continue to prep for the 2020 NBA Draft, and in a continuation of that trend, Brad Turner of the L.A. Times broke the news that the team worked out Arizona freshman guard Nico Mannion this week.
The Lakers have the No. 28 pick in the Nov. 18 draft, and while Mannion was originally considered a clear first-round pick, his stock has fallen precipitously. Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation did not project Mannion to go in the first round of his latest mock draft, while ESPN, The Athletic, and The Ringer all also predict Mannion will a second-rounder. Of major outlets skimmed by Silver Screen and Roll, only Bleacher Report had Mannion going in the late first-round of its latest mock.
Sources: Lakers worked out Arizona point PG Nico Mannion Tuesday in Arizona. Lakers VP of basketball operations/GM Rob Pelinka was among Lakers at workout. Lakers have 28th pick in NBA draft on Wednesday. Mannion is 6-3, 190, averaged 14 points, 5.3 assists last season.— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) November 12, 2020
Mannion is the first player the Lakers have been reported to have worked out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the only player the team has looked at in person, as those sessions have become more secretive as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Numerous Lakers players did attend Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Maxey’s televised pre-draft workout in October.
The 6’3 guard fell short of expectations at Arizona, mostly because of his jump shooting. He was lauded as an elite-level shooter coming out of high school but was extremely erratic in college, having far more bad games than good ones, especially against high-quality opponents (And by bad games, we mean a 3-20 shooting night against Gonzaga and a 3-14 game against Baylor).
Mannion isn’t the quickest or strongest player either, and struggled to finish through contact. But we have to remember that he’s only 19 years old and has a lot of room to grow physically. And when you project him to the next level, he does already have some interesting tools. He’s an efficient and creative distributor and is tremendous in transition, a much more valuable skill in the NBA than college, especially since Arizona tends to play at a slow pace.
There are legitimate concerns about how well he will be able to guard NBA talent, but he does play with effort and anticipation on the defensive end. Once he matures physically, it’s not outlandish to think he can be a decent defender.
If Mannion can find his jumper again, he would fit in nicely with the Lakers as a shooter and secondary creator who could step in at point guard when LeBron James is off the court. Years down the road, Mannion could develop into a quality starting point guard or a great backup. Maybe even more if, again, he shoots the way he’s thought to be capable of. And in fairness to Mannion, he was Arizona’s lone lead guard and had to create most of his — and the team’s — shot attempts. Not an easy role for a freshman.
In addition to at No. 28, the Lakers could theoretically also be looking at Mannion as a potential second-rounder if they deal their first-round pick. The Lakers do not have a second-round pick currently, but Zach Lowe of ESPN reported that due to the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, teams will certainly be selling second-rounders this year. The Lakers traded their 2019 first-round pick and paid an NBA-record $2.2 million for the second-rounder used to select Talen Horton-Tucker in last year’s draft, so this is a strategy they’ve used before.
Regardless, we’ll find out if the Lakers liked what they saw from Mannion enough to select him in either round when the draft takes place next week.
You can check out SB Nation’s latest mock draft here, and see a round-up of all of our draft coverage at this slick new interactive page. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, and Ryan (who covers the Arizona Wildcats for AZ Desert Swarm, our sister site) at @RKelapire.