How LA Lakers' Draft Reshaped Their NBA Free-Agency Plans

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How LA Lakers' Draft Reshaped Their NBA Free-Agency Plans
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Can the Lakers get Dwight Howard to re-sign?

With the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers selected Ryan Kelly.

In many cases, how a team fares on draft night can shape their plans for free agency, but for the Lakers, almost nothing changes.

If anything, drafting Kelly may mean that L.A. won’t be re-signing Antawn Jamison, as Kelly essentially serves the same function. He’s a face-up, jump-shooting big man—the classic prototype of a stretch 4.

Mike D’Antoni used Jamison in that role last season, and the wily old veteran actually performed admirably—at least on the offensive end.

Jamison scored nearly 16 points per 36 minutes and knocked down 36 percent of his threes. His intelligent movement off the ball and vast array of runners, baby hooks and awkward flip shots also contributed to him posting the second-highest offensive rating of any Laker, trailing only Steve Nash.

Kelly doesn’t have the touch and scoring instincts around the basket that Jamison does, but he’s got a purer stroke and is deadlier from beyond the arc. He connected on over 42 percent of his triples as a senior, after converting nearly 41 percent as a junior.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Ryan Kelly has the upside to be an elite shooting big man in the NBA.

His 6'11" frame should help him in situations near the hoop, and hopefully on defense as well. Kelly was a good shot-blocker in college, but only average overall defensively.

The Duke product doesn’t possess great foot speed or lateral quickness. Quicker forwards can beat him off the dribble and guards can turn the corner on him in the pick-and-roll. Despite his height, his average wingspan limits his length and his thin frame doesn’t make for a very imposing presence in the paint.

Kelly can probably develop into being an adept shooting specialist who can stretch defenses from the power forward spot. In fact, he may be able to step in and contribute this year.

Former Blue Devils taken in the second round—especially those who spent four years under coach Mike Krzyzewski—have a penchant for cracking NBA rotations and contributing more than you’d expect. Just look at how integral a piece Kyle Singler became for the Detroit Pistons last season.

D’Antoni covets shooting, and the Lakers didn’t have enough of it in 2013, ranking 19th in three-point accuracy while launching the third-most threes in the league. If Kelly comes into camp in shape and his shot is falling, he could earn significant minutes right away.

Other than cutting ties with Jamison though, drafting Kelly doesn’t really alter L.A.’s free-agency strategy.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The addition of Ryan Kelly could signal Antawn Jamison's exit.

Top priority is still given to retaining Dwight Howard. The Lakers are one of several teams meeting with Howard and are most closely vying with the Houston Rockets for the All-Star center’s services.

A lot of fans and members of the L.A. media have soured on Howard over the past year. His personality can wear on you and he’s difficult to deal with, but his basketball skills are undeniable.

Howard will never be a dominant back-to-the-basket offensive player. He doesn’t have the touch, feel or instincts to score around the basket with any sort of finesse.

What he can do on offense is overpower most centers and use his superior athleticism to his advantage. All he has to do is roll hard to the rim, make timely cuts and beat his man down the floor in transition. That, along with putbacks and easy catch-and-finish opportunities off of penetration, can net Howard seven or eight baskets a night easily.

In fact, that’s exactly what he did in Orlando when he averaged 20-plus points per game four times in five seasons between 2008 and 2012. Another year further removed from back surgery and the shoulder problems that plagued him in 2013 can only return him closer to his former explosiveness.

And we haven’t even touched on his defensive value yet.

Howard has been the single-most dominant defensive player in the NBA for the past half-dozen seasons. Over that stretch, he’s nabbed three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, led the league in defensive rating three times, defensive win shares four times, rebounding five times and blocks twice.

His impact on defense can’t be properly quantified. In fact, when Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry attempted to translate interior defense into numbers at this year’s Sloan conference, he titled his paper “The Dwight Effect” because of Howard’s prowess in protecting the paint.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dwight Howard can anchor a defense almost by himself.

Not only is Howard the NBA’s premier defensive anchor for team defense, he’s one of the league’s top individual defenders as well.

According to My Synergy Sports, Howard ranks 20th in the NBA in points allowed per possession, at just 0.74. Against post-ups, the roll man in pick-and-rolls and spot-ups—the three play types he defends most often (80 percent of the time)—he ranks eighth, 31st and 36th,, respectively (or, to put it another way, he’s in the top 8 percent of the NBA in defending those three offensive plays).

We overlook it more than we should, but defense is half the game. Having the most impactful defensive player in the league is a huge, huge benefit to a team.

That’s what the Lakers have in Howard. And he’s good enough, athletic enough and physically imposing enough to contribute quite a bit on offense as well.

It’s no fluke that just two years ago Howard was the second-best basketball player on the planet, so it’s imperative that the Lakers hold on to him to anchor their future.

After all, even if Ryan Kelly turns into a solid rotation player, the Lakers definitely can’t rebuild through the draft.

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