If the Los Angeles Lakers ultimately decide to stay put and keep the seventh pick in the draft, finding a player with a high floor and high ceiling should be the top priority.
The Lakers simply can't afford to miss on this pick given their lack of overall assets, and with that in mind, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon should be the player the Lakers hone in on for draft day.
As it currently stands, the Lakers should be in pretty solid position to select Gordon without any additional maneuvering. It seems likely that at least two power forwards should come off the board before Gordon does (Jabari Parker, Noah Vonleh and Julius Randle), and based solely on team needs, the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics don't particularly have to have another big man at the 4.
That's good news for the Lakers, because Gordon will almost certainly be the best player available on the board at No. 7, and it's an added bonus that he fills a big need for the Lakers.
As it stands right now, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre on guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season. That obviously leaves a rather large hole to be filled.
And although he's incredibly young and somewhat unpolished, Gordon is the type of player who can make positive contributions right away. His main strength is a sorely needed one for an aging backcourt: defense.
Gordon isn't your typical big man in that he's a lengthy rim protector who can swat away shots. While Gordon can get up and contest, for sure, he's most effective defensively covering the pick-and-roll and switching to smaller perimeter players.
Gordon has a lot in common in that sense with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green. He can hold his own in the post and defend without fouling, but he can also cover multiple positions incredibly well and move laterally at a frightening speed for someone his size.
While some of the other forwards like Parker and Randle come with big question marks on the defensive end, Gordon is probably the best defensive prospect in the draft outside of Joel Embiid, a shot-blocking center with length you can't teach.
The Lakers will need to find a rim protector at some point down the line, but in Gordon they'll have a player who won't yield much to his own man and will be fast enough to rotate and recover with relative ease. That's a big deal, as it's been a while since we've seen the Lakers play a forward who could really get after it defensively.
Gordon is still a work in progress offensively, but he hasn't been afraid to float out to the perimeter, handle the ball and make smart passes. That's a big deal for the modern-day 4, as teams are desperate to find spacing wherever they can. Big guys have to be able to make smart decisions with the ball, much like we've seen Blake Griffin do for the Clippers, which is one of Gordon's primary comparisons.
Like it does for Griffin, Gordon's athleticism should make him a handful on the offensive boards, and he'll be bad news in transition as well. Griffin came into the league more polished, particularly as a scorer, but you can see some similarities in terms of size, speed and intelligence.
But perhaps the biggest question about Gordon isn't who he'll play like, but how he'll fit with Kobe Bryant, the only star remaining on the roster. While Bryant won't be around forever (we think), this will be an important transition period for the Lakers. If anyone can kill a player's confidence or give him the knowledge he needs to succeed based on a whim, it's Bryant.
And from that point of view, Bryant should respect Gordon's work ethic and eagerness to take on the less glamorous parts of the game. Here's what Gordon told Tzvi Twersky of SLAM about his workout with the Lakers, which he sounded pretty excited for:
L.A. is the next stop. That should be fun. The Lakers are a great program. It’s a traditional program, so I think the level of intensity will be way up.
If I ended up playing with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, that would be absolutely insane. I would want to know everything that they know. I’d be attached to Kobe at the hip. I’d be attached to him and Steve Nash.
Bryant is obviously demanding of his teammates, but the fact that Gordon has a big motor and can actually catch the ball puts him ahead of a lot of the big men Bryant has played with over the years. There will be a learning curve as there is for every rookie, but Gordon has the raw goods to succeed next to Bryant.
Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times broke down what Gordon needs to improve on and spoke with the young forward after his workout with the team:
"I can guard a plethora of different positions," said Gordon. Where he needs to improve most is at the free throw line where he shot only 42.2% through 38 games at Arizona.
The athletic Gordon is confident he'll improve his shooting, given his work ethic.
"This wasn't my first workout of the day," said Gordon. "Kobe [Bryant is] psychotic about basketball and I am too. That would be absolutely incredible, learning from a great just the little intricacies of the game, details. I would love to see his work ethic. Kobe is the definition of a true pro."
Gordon could be available when the Lakers pick at seven. McDermott projects to be a little bit lower.
"I've been told four to eight," said Gordon of where he expects to go in the draft. He's already worked out with the Sacramento Kings (eight pick). He'll visit the Utah Jazz (fifth) next followed by the Boston Celtics (sixth) and Orlando Magic (fourth).
If Gordon hangs around towards the back end of that projection, the Lakers shouldn't hesitate to snatch him up with the seventh pick. Although there are some concerns that Gordon has all of the intangibles but not enough of the actual skills (like his jumper, post moves, etc.), the Lakers have to trust their player-development staff. Whoever ends up taking the head coaching position will appreciate having a low-maintenance worker on the roster like Gordon.
Gordon may not ever turn into a total-package superstar, but it's hard to imagine that he won't at least be a productive rotation big man on the next level. The Lakers need a lot of things right now, but that's pretty high up on the list.
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