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Analyzing LA Lakers' Biggest Draft Needs

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Analyzing LA Lakers' Biggest Draft Needs
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Dante Exum is a Lakers favorite in the upcoming draft.

The Los Angeles Lakers head into the June 26 NBA draft with a number of needs but only one pick.

Their main objective: See how many of those needs they can fill with the No. 7 overall draft choice.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to find the flaws and holes in the Lakers' armor: This was an injury-prone team that played little to no defense and that was simply outmanned most of the time.

L.A.'s 27-55 mark was the worst in franchise history, probably contributing to head coach Mike D'Antoni's resignation from his job and casting a serious pall over the team and its general psyche.

As the NBA draft approaches, it would appear that Lakers management has at least eight to 10 players it considers lottery-worthy. These are players it feels have the skills and potential to address some of the team's glaring deficiencies.

The coveted—Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Dante Exum—will likely be gone by the time L.A.'s turn is called.

Yet, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak believes the draft is deep enough that he would not be immune to trading down in order to get two first-round picks or a first-round and early second-round selection.

Kupchak told the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina:

We may look to get a pick some other way because we have guys we interviewed who aren't going to be gone before the second round, but they'll be around after [our current pick]. You only get so many assets in this league. Draft picks are an asset. There's cap room, draft picks and players. Those are assets you can use to rebuild a team.

The Lakers may look to either the Phoenix Suns or Chicago Bulls as trading partners. Both clubs have multiple first-round picks—all lower than the Lakers. If either believes it can snare a top lottery pick at No. 7, it could swap its picks (Phoenix at Nos. 14, 18 and 27 or Chicago at Nos. 16 and 19) with the Lakers.

L.A.'s biggest draft needs would appear to be rebounding, playmaking, overall defense and athleticism. When you're the 14th place team in the Western Conference with only three of 15 roster spots filled (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre), chances are good your needs are many.

 

Rebounding

Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Indiana's Noah Vonleh has a 7'4" wingspan and is a tremendous rebounder.

The Lakers finished 25th in rebounding last season with 41 total boards per game. For the year, L.A.'s rudderless defenders surrendered a league-leading 653 more rebounds to the opposition.

The Lakers were the only team to give up more than 4,000 rebounds (4,018) over the course of the season, per ESPN.com. Additionally, opponents took down 1,068 rebounds on the offensive glass against the Lakers, which was also worst in the league.

The only big man under contract for next season is the 7'0" Sacre, and though his overall game has improved, he's not exactly a dominant force on the boards. Sacre averaged 3.9 rebounds in 16.8 minutes last season.

This glaring glass deficiency clearly points out how much the Lakers need to re-sign their most efficient rebounder, forward Jordan Hill. And they must also address the need in the draft.

Kansas center Joel Embiid would be a tremendous addition, but he should be long gone before the Lakers pick. A more likely possibility to help shore up the paint is Indiana big man Noah Vonleh.

Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding thinks the 6'10", 247-pound forward with the 7'4" wingspan could very well fall into L.A.'s lap at the seventh pick. DraftExpress had Vonleh as the nation's top rebounder among their 100 prospects.

Kentucky's Julius Randle could also solve some of the rebounding issues for the Lakers. The 6'9", 250-pound power forward averaged 10.4 rebounds per game as a freshman for the Wildcats and has been compared to Zack Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The knock on Randle has been that his arms are too short. After measuring 6'11" last year, Randle's wingspan was recently measured at 7'0", considered adequate by NBA standards.

 

A playmaker

The Lakers haven't had a superior point guard in decades, probably dating back to the 1980s and Magic Johnson.

With no disrespect to the gritty Derek Fisher, the Lakers did win championships without an elite point guard, though they did have a 2-guard by the name of Kobe Bryant.

Times have changed, and the game is much more point guard-oriented. When you think of elite NBA teams, there's usually a dominant point guard running the offense: Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, George Hill, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and Chris Paul come to mind.

As of now, the Lakers point guards include 22-year-old Kendall Marshall (team option) and free agents Jordan Farmar and Kent Bazemore. While all three have looked like floor leaders at times, none has been consistent enough to take over games and dominate play.

Marshall averaged 29 minutes, eight points, 8.8 assists, three rebounds and shot 40 percent from three-point range. Still, he's on the slow side, not exceptionally strong and often gets beat off the dribble. He's just 22 and has a lot to learn but will probably be back with the Lakers after an impressive rookie campaign.

The 6'2" Farmar is on his second duty with the Lakers. He missed half the season with injuries but was effective playing the role of floor general when on the court. In 41 games, Farmar averaged 10 points, five assists and 2.5 rebounds, plus he shot 44 percent from long distance.

Farmar is a free agent but really wants to return to the Lakers.

Bazemore was a pickup in the Steve Blake deal earlier this year with the Golden State Warriors. Allowed to finally get significant playing time (28 minutes per game), the 6'5" point guard averaged 13 points and displayed a willingness to attack the paint.

It would seem that Bazemore would get an invitation back to the Lakers training camp in the fall.

As for the draft, the Lakers would like nothing more than to see Dante Exum's name still on the board when the seventh pick rolls around. The 6'6" Australian is a raw, unproven talent but appears to possess the skills of a game-changer.

Exum was asked about the rumors that he wants to play for the Lakers, and while he complimented the Purple and Gold, he also said the media had "twisted" his desire to play for L.A..

Exum's potential was seen last summer at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague when he scored 33 points in a win over top-rated Spain. But general managers have had to rely more on video clips since then.

Exum is represented by Rob Pelinka, the agent for Kobe Bryant. He's been working out in Los Angeles for several months but remains a mystery due to his lack of strong competition down under. Still, his stock has been on the rise, and Exum could easily be among the top five picks.

As reported by the Sporting News' Sean Deveney:

If you're an NBA general manager with an Exum fascination, you're no doubt more fascinated by the idea of what Exum could be, with his 6'6" frame and 6'9 1/2" wingspan, than by what you've actually seen.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Marcus Smart is a big point guard with strong defensive skills.

At 6'3" (6'9.25" wingspan) and 227 pounds, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart is the other playmaker high on the Lakers' wish list. While still needing to develop his outside shot, Smart is a good ball-handler who is unafraid to attack the rim.

Smart plays with a high motor and, outside of an isolated incident last season with an opposing fan, plays with poise.

Smart finished his sophomore season with impressive numbers: 18 points, five assists and six rebounds per 33 minutes a game. He also averaged three steals and increased his shooting percentage to just over 42 percent from 40 as a freshman.

 

Defense

D'Antoni never gave much credence to the concept of a sound defense, and it showed.

According to NBA.com, in their 55 losses the Lakers were outscored by 14 points on average. L.A. was 29th in points allowed per game.

The Lakers allowed a shocking 49.2 points in the paint, which was dead last. Teams often scored at will against L.A., beating it down the court, grabbing offensive rebounds, driving to the middle and hitting three-point shots off open looks.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Aaron Gordon is a 6'9" power forward with tremendous athletic ability.

It wasn't pretty. Defense becomes a major need for the Lakers in the draft as well as free agency, where they will be very active.

Smart, Vonleh and Randle all have the chops to play sound defense. With the probable departures of both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, the Lakers might lean toward one of the big men on draft day. That could mean Vonleh, Randle or Arizona's Aaron Gordon.

At 6'9", with a 6'11.75" wingspan, Gordon is often compared to Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers in looks, size and athleticism. In a big matchup with Duke last December, Gordon held his own against superstar Jabari Parker as the Wildcats defeated the Blue Devils, 72-66.

 

Athleticism

The Lakers signed Wesley Johnson last summer in the hope that the very athletic former first-rounder would finally live up to the hype he enjoyed back in 2010 when he was the fourth overall pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Johnson had moments where you thought he had finally overcome the hurdles of being unaggressive and unfocused. His numbers last season were the best of his four-year NBA career, albeit just slightly. He averaged 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 28.4 minutes—not bad, but not enough.

The Lakers desperately need athletic players as they rebuild. It is going to take a combination of youth and a few top free agents for this team to be a contender again, which makes freshman Aaron Gordon (Arizona) a strong possibility.

Like most of the other 18- and 19-year-olds in the draft, Gordon is a raw talent. He needs major work on his offensive skills, but his athleticism is off the charts. Even Blake Griffin recognizes Gordon's talents and agrees with some of the comparisons, per Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv: "A little bit. He's very athletic, he's got a pretty good motor."

Gordon, Vonleh, Smart, Exum and Randle all fit the athletic mold.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
UCLA guard Zach LaVine impressed at the NBA combine.

Point guard Zach LaVine from UCLA is a dark-horse possibility who is extremely athletic. The 6'6" freshman's stock rose sharply following a great showing at the NBA combine in Chicago.

Via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

LaVine's draft range is a mystery. While he sputtered down the stretch of the season with the Bruins, his raw athleticism could entice a lottery team (top 14).

 

Realistically, whom will the Lakers wind up drafting on June 26?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Most likely to be drafted by the Lakers

If the Lakers seek an athletic, defensive-minded, rebounding playmaker, the logical pick for them at No. 7 is Marcus Smart. Being compared to Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade certainly doesn't hurt his potential.

If the Lakers do pull off a draft-position trade, such players as Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), Kyle Anderson (UCLA) and forward Rodney Hood (Duke) all get thrown into the mix.

The guess here is that the Lakers take Dante Exum or Noah Vonleh first if either one is still on the board at No. 7. 

Assuming neither one is there, the Lakers will go with the Smart choice.

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