The 3 Most Intriguing 2014 NBA Draft Prospects for LA Lakers

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The 3 Most Intriguing 2014 NBA Draft Prospects for LA Lakers
Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Marcus Smart is a prime candidate for the Lakers' first-round draft selection.

The playoffs only mean one thing to fans of the Los Angeles Lakers: The draft lottery is almost here!

The Lakers have a 6.3 percent chance of lucking into the No. 1 overall selection, and about a 21.5 percent chance of picking in the top three.

However, with the sixth-worst record in the NBA, it's most likely (44 percent odds) that L.A. will be drafting in the No. 6 slot this June.

With that in mind, let's zero in on the three most intriguing prospects who may still be on the board at that juncture. 

 

Julius Randle

Julius Randle currently sits fifth on ESPN NBA draft guru Chad Ford's Top 100 list, but Ford has him going at No. 6 (to the Lakers) in his latest mock draft.

The freshman power forward was expected to be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick coming into the season, but by consensus he has dropped out of that race.

Randle didn't dominate college basketball like many thought he would, but he was still extremely effective.

His combination of size, strength and speed allowed him to face up and get to the basket almost at will.

He plowed through smaller defenders and simply went around bigger ones on his way to the rim, earning over seven free-throw attempts per game.

The Kentucky big man showed a deft touch around the basket, but didn't flash the range most expected him to have.

A 50 percent two-point percentage was below average for his position, and he cashed in on just 70 percent of his free throws.

Still, he has the foundation for a reliable mid-range jumper and should develop that part of his game quickly upon entering the league.

Everyone wants to compare Randle to Zach Randolph, but he's not as offensively gifted as Z-Bo was at the same age. Regardless, he has all the skills to become a front-line scorer on offense.

But great NBA big men need to impact the game defensively as well—and that's where Randle's game raises doubts.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Randle can score and rebound in bunches, but his limitations on defense may cause him to slip in the draft.

He's not very tall or long, and his standing reach is on par with Andre Iguodala according to ESPN's Amin Elhassan.

His steal and block rates in college were poor. Combine that with his smaller stature and you get someone who won't be a valuable rim protector in the NBA.

As long as he plays next to a great defensive anchor he'll be fine, but he does have to raise his awareness when guarding in space and just put out more effort in general on that end of the floor.

He can still be a very good NBA player and would be a solid pick at No. 6, but he's probably not the franchise cornerstone many had pegged him as when he came out of high school.

 

Aaron Gordon

Chad Ford has Aaron Gordon ranked sixth on his big board, but slotted at No. 5 overall in his mock.

Gordon has perhaps the most underwhelming statistical profile of any top-10 prospect, but you can see his obvious value when you watch him play.

He is an elite athlete, blessed with lateral quickness, an eye-popping vertical and a swift second jump.

The Arizona product puts all those physical tools to use on defense.

Gordon can guard almost any position on the floor with the quickness to stay in front of guys and the length to bother their shots.

His versatility on that end propelled one of the best defenses in the country, and projects him to be a potentially great stopper in the pros.

There isn't much polish to Gordon's offensive game yet, and there may never be. 

His struggles with a jump shot are well documented, and his free-throw percentage was an appalling 42 percent.

It doesn't seem like Gordon will ever develop into a go-to offensive option, but he can finagle his way into mid-teens scoring through smart cuts, putbacks and capitalizing on broken plays.

Gordon's career arc will probably land him somewhere between Gerald Wallace and Shawn Marion. There are multiple All-Star selections in him, but he'll likely never be the mega-star that the Lakers crave.

Marketing will play a significant role in L.A.'s decision, and it could factor into whether the Lakers select a player who excels in the more subtle areas of the game.

 

Marcus Smart

No top prospect in this draft is as divisive as Marcus Smart.

Ford has him eighth on his big board and going at No. 7 in his mock draft, but also concedes that there is a large group of executives who wouldn't touch him in the top 10.

When you watch Smart play, you can see the arguments on both sides unfolding before your eyes.

His strengths are obvious and great, but his flaws are glaring as well.

The sophomore guard isn't a pure point (Tweener alert!) and therefore doesn't pick out all the passes you would hope your lead guard would be able to identify.

Even though he likes to play with the ball in his hands, he doesn't stagnate the offense. And he improved his assist rate while significantly cutting his turnover rate last season.

As has been chronicled at length, the jump shot is a problem. His three-point percentage barely moved in his second year at school, and his free-throw percentage actually slipped quite a bit.

However, he improved his shooting overall thanks to a markedly better two-point percentage—where he posted a higher mark than Julius Randle.

Smart gets to the foul line at a prolific rate, at just about 10 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes. He's got awesome size and strength for a point guard, though he's on the slower end of the spectrum for the position.

His lack of lateral quickness could be a problem on defense, but his length, anticipation and strong hands—he led the nation in steals back-to-back seasons—can make up for that, a la Ricky Rubio.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Smart laid it all out on the court against Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament, notching 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals in a tough loss.

Where Smart really earns supporters though is with his toughness and leadership. 

He really does leave it all on the floor and does whatever it takes for his team to win, whether it's outmuscling the opposition for offensive boards or willing his way repeatedly to the free-throw line when his shot isn't falling.

Despite his incidents this past season at Oklahoma State, the consensus on Smart is that he is a high-character individual who is dedicated to his craft.

If you subscribe to that notion, then you believe Smart will do everything in his power to shore up the weaker parts of his game and that he can lead a team in the right direction.

And if the Lakers believe that, they should make him their first-round selection on draft night.

 

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