The Los Angeles Lakers will have to address some of their needs by using the No. 7 pick in the draft.
That will be L.A.’s lone selection. They have no second-round picks by virtue of the trade that brought Steve Nash to the Lakers. Nash’s former team, the Phoenix Suns, subsequently swapped that pick with the Minnesota Timberwolves, as reported by ESPN LA’s Larry Coon.
It might be tough for the Lakers to address all of their needs with a single pick, which is why they are open to acquiring more. Prior to the draft lottery, General manager Mitch Kupchak spoke to 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.
That makes sense given another quote Kupchak provided to Medina: “We need to bring in players at every position, really.”
The Lakers only have three players with guaranteed contracts for next season, per Sham Sports. The rest are either free agents, have non-guaranteed deals or an option (team or player) allowing them to potentially return.
Considering that the Purple and Gold have next to nothing when it comes to surrounding Kobe Bryant and Nash with talent, they will have to plug some holes through the draft.
We will look at their needs, from the most to the least important, and which incoming players could help on that front.
Help on the Interior
Robert Sacre is the only frontcourt player under contract for the Lakers going into next year. His career averages of 13.3 minutes, 4.1 points and three rebounds per game probably won’t cut it for the Lakers.
LakerLand will more than likely love to get a player with solid rebounding skills and the ability to catch and finish. If he’s athletic to boot, consider that a jackpot since the Lakers only have below-the-rim players.
Indiana University’s Noah Vonleh fits the mold here. It’s worth noting that Vonleh was a freshman this past college season and will be 19 years old by the time training camp starts.
Some say he has All-Star talent, but it will take a while to develop because he’s quite raw. It’s doubtful he’ll be an impact player during his rookie year, but he should become quite the talent.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford offered a detailed outlook of the 6’9’’ Vonleh in April (membership required):
Vonleh has been in the top 10 of our Big Board virtually all year. While NBA scouts had doubts about his NBA readiness before the season began -- some still do -- they see him as someone with incredible NBA upside. He's big, he's athletic, he can score both inside and outside, he rebounds and he has a reputation of being a hard worker and someone who is easy to coach. Players like that don't really grow on trees.
That last sentence is quite important. Elite big men are precious commodities, and if a GM can find an interior player who projects to be near the top of the food chain at the power forward position, said GM will happily take the prospect. Thus, there’s a chance Vonleh won’t be on the board by the time it’s L.A.’s time to make a draft selection.
If that’s the case, Kupchak should select Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. Although his jumper needs work, Gordon is a terrific athlete and stud offensive rebounder. He can defend multiple positions, and his motor earned him comparisons to Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets.
In the event both players are gone by the time the Lakers are on the clock, Los Angeles might address their second most pressing need. The rationale for switching things up is simple: Teams should address needs based on the best player available.
If the best big men are off the board, the Lakers are better off taking the most talented player left, provided that he solves one of the team’s issues.
The starting backcourt was essentially sidelined all season, which resulted in the Lakers lacking playmaking from their perimeter players.
Kobe and Nash might be physically compromised during the 2014-15 campaign because of their respective ailments. Bryant had a ruptured Achilles and a fractured knee. He announced earlier this month that he was "100 percent" to ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin, but he could still break down.
Also, reducing his workload is probably the most prudent approach to take with respect to his health. The same is true for Nash, who wasn’t available because of nerve damage in his back.
Dante Exum is the perfect choice here. He’s a good penetrator and solid passer. What’s more, because he’s 6’6’’, he should able to see over defenders for quick passes.
Exum also does a good job of scoring at the hoop, which makes him a scary dual threat. NBADraft.net sees flashes of Penny Hardway in him, and that potential could very well get him drafted in the top five.
If that’s the case, the Lakers could draft Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. He started playing point guard in college and did an admirable job at the position. He’s good at bullying defenders on his way to the basket with his stocky frame and finishes with the best of them.
However, Amin Elhassan of ESPN.com (membership required) submitted a detailed scouting report on Smart, and his weaknesses are far too problematic for the Lakers. Smart has little range on his jumper and is not a natural passer.
He only sees guys in his direct line of sight, which prevents him from scanning the floor and anticipating when a teammate is about to become open. Putting a ball-dominant guard that’s a poor passer alongside Kobe is probably a recipe for failure or simply an abundance of death stares.
That leaves the Lakers with Tyler Ennis of Syracuse. He’s a good passer and enjoys playing in the pick-and-roll. Ennis is as unselfish as they come and will more than likely do a great job spelling Steve Nash or starting in his place if Nash isn’t available. Should Kendall Marshall return, the Lakers would have a three-headed monster at point guard, which would be a plus given the injuries the team faced this year.
Some mock drafts (membership required) have Ennis going in the first 13 picks, but NBADraft.net has him falling all the way down to No. 25. Maybe the Lakers trade down in the draft if they can get a second-round pick out of transaction as well.
Granted, I’d be more inclined to make such a move only if L.A. could get two first-round picks.
The Lakers desperately need a wing player next to Bryant. Ideally, it would be a small forward with range who can also defend the opposition’s best outside scorer in short stints.
Kentucky’s James Young is an interesting prospect in this spot. He’s a left-handed scorer who can get to the basket and serve defenders with disrespect. Young is not a quality ball-handler, and his jumper needs work. Nonetheless, he has the physical tools to evolve and become a solid small forward.
He is an above-average athlete and usually produces good results in the vicinity of the basket.
On the flip side, his defense is a clear weakness. Bleacher Report’s Daniel O’Brien broke down his game in April:
Lastly, defense has been a weakness for Young more than Kentucky fans would like this season. He's made some lapses as a transition defender, which is inexcusable, and he's been burned too often against high-caliber playmakers. In addition, he's been out of position as a weakside helper on several occasions.
If Young’s offense was lights-out, the Lakers could justify picking him. He’s an attractive player in terms of scoring if we project improvement, but even then, Young looks like someone who will merely be a streaky scorer during his pro career.
Too many question marks.
Instead, the Lakers can trade down or acquire a late first-round pick to go after Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early. He won’t be a great offensive player, but he’s a serviceable 3-point shooter and a gamer.
Bleacher Report’s Mike Chiari offered this appraisal of Early in late March:
Early has great size at 6'8", and although he could benefit from filling out his frame a little bit more, the fact that he can shoot the ball so well should make him an immediate threat in the NBA. He may not possess the athletic ability that many of the prospective top picks do, but he is the type of player who simply finds ways to produce. There is no reason to believe that will change in the NBA.
Furthermore, he’s a tough and physical player, which should give the Lakers some type of resistance on the perimeter.
The Lakers probably won’t be able to fill all of their needs through the draft, but it’s certainly a great place to start. Los Angeles can begin shaping up the roster with youth to fill holes.
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