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Why LA Lakers Must Pick a Big Man in 2014 Draft

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Why LA Lakers Must Pick a Big Man in 2014 Draft
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have gaping holes to fill in their frontcourt. This year’s draft could provide an opportunity to start filling that chasm.

Yes, Australian wonderkid Dante Exum could potentially be a point guard of the future, but let’s get real—he’ll most likely be gone by the time the Lakers are on the clock come the night of June 26, 2014.

The Lakers ended the season with the sixth-worst record in the NBA. On May 20, they will be one of 14 teams at the annual draft lottery, watching the ping-pong balls bounce and hoping against hope for that magic No. 1 pick.

The odds are not in their favor. Eric Pincus for the Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

The NBA will give out 1,000 combinations of four ping pong balls to the 14 lottery teams. In sixth position, the Lakers will get 63 combinations, giving 6.3% odds of landing the top pick, 7.1% the second and 8.1% the third.

After the first three selections, the remaining 11 teams slot in order of record, worst to best. The Lakers can't move up to four or five. The odds of staying at six is 43.9%. The Lakers also have a 30.5% chance of dipping to seven, 4.0% of falling to eight but just 0.1% of falling to nine.

The good news is that the top of this year’s draft is filled with intriguing frontcourt players, and that’s what the evolving game of basketball demands—high-octane bigs who can get from one end of the court to the other in a hurry and score the ball.

Positionless, entertaining basketball will be the norm of the future, and point guards like Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall just need to be able to hit a galloping gazelle like Aaron Gordon in stride for the thunder dunk. Ka-Boom!

And if you’re not a small-ball fanatic that’s OK—some of these draft prospects also bang down low on the block.

OK, so all of this is overly simplistic and doesn’t take a myriad of other factors into account. But after the worst loss record in the Lakers’ history, a single lottery pick could provide a picture of hope.

And, with Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman all heading into free agency, it’s not unreasonable to place hope somewhere in the vicinity of their vacated spots.

Compounding the exodus of three legitimate frontcourt starters is the paucity of other quality bigs in this summer's marketplace.

And so we look toward the draft. 

Joel Embiid is as much of a long shot as Exum, but pitchforks and flaming torches would encircle this article without mention of his name. So yes, Embiid would be a draft-night steal—a legit 7-foot center with a 7’5” wingspan and an unusual sense of balance and athleticism honed by years of volleyball and soccer.  

Most draft boards project Julius Randle from the University of Kentucky as a top-5 pick, but it’s not at all inconceivable that he could drop a couple notches. Randle’s a little undersized at the power forward position but has plenty of strength, athleticism and energy. His scoring instincts and ball-handling skills are well above average, but he needs to work on his defensive fundamentals.

Aaron Gordon was measured at 6’9” at the 2013 Hoop Summit, and that’s probably being generous. Still, the Arizona Wildcat has an insane motor—he finishes above the rim on a regular basis and may be the closest thing to Blake Griffin in this year’s draft. Gordon's shot-making is iffy when it's not point-blank, but that can be worked on.

Noah Vonleh’s a bit on the raw side but has tremendous reach at 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan. A Hoosier freshman, Vonleh plays both center and power forward and, at this point, is at his best inside the paint. He’s got an NBA-ready body at 240 pounds, a nose for grabbing rebounds and a ton of potential.

Heading into the summer, the Lakers have just two frontcourt players under contract. Robert Sacre was the dead-last selection in the 2012 draft at No. 60, while Ryan Kelly, a classic stretch 4, was the No. 48 pick last year.

Each made measurable progress during this train wreck of a season for the Purple and Gold. That’s commendable, but they are who they are—secondary players who can fill a role.

This year, the Lakers have their best draft slot in a generation, even if they did kill off any shot of a No. 5 pick by winning the last two games of the season.

And while the top of this year’s class is populated with college freshmen who don’t necessarily have true superstar hype, there are still some intriguing choices—players with the tools to be legitimate contributors in an ever-changing game.

With the Lakers staring into the teeth of a major rebuild, drafting a quality big man for the future is an absolute must.

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