After being swept up in a deluge of trade rumors in the lead-up to the 2023 NBA Draft, the Lakers ultimately opted not to make a deal on Thursday night, instead using both of their picks to select Jalen Hood-Schifino (17th) and Maxwell Lewis (40th).
But according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, the Lakers and their vaunted scouting department did consider at least one other option at that former spot: Cam Whitmore, who was projected to be a lottery pick in nearly every mock draft. SB Nation had him going eighth, as did ESPN and The Athletic.
The Lakers were hardly alone in passing on Whitmore — two other teams did after them, not to mention the 16 before — but they did at least think about taking him, according to Buha. However, rather than go with a boom-or-bust prospect, they decided to go with a player in Hood-Schifino that they were more certain would work out in the NBA:
Even as Cam Whitmore, who was a projected lottery pick, slid to Houston at pick No. 20, no team decided to trade up to steal him. (The Lakers considered Whitmore, according to team sources, but determined Hood-Schifino was a surer bet.)
The Lakers prioritized the future over the present on draft night.— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) June 23, 2023
Instead of making a trade, they drafted two rangy perimeter players that they believe will grow into key members of their core.
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While that slide left Rockets fans thrilled with their team taking a gamble with one of their picks, it’s also easy in the aftermath of the draft to understand why teams like the Lakers may have not wanted to use their only first-round pick on Whitmore.
Jonathan Givony of ESPN reported that teams were concerned about cartilage in Whitmore’s knee that “could potentially be an issue for him down the road,” and that he had low energy in workouts and gave “not great” interviews. Combine all those three together, and yeah, it’s not really that shocking he fell, especially when Givony wasn’t the only reporter hearing such things.
With that in mind, it makes a lot more sense that the Lakers went with the comparatively intense and driven Hood-Schifino, who impressed the team in his workout and interview:
It’s certainly possible that Whitmore ends up being the better player and having the better career, but for a Lakers team looking for guys who can contribute and compete in winning basketball games sooner rather than later, it’s hard to fault them for going with a player they had less concerns about and consider more likely to be able to contribute and lock in right away.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.