The Los Angeles Lakers have just one pick, the No. 7 overall selection, in the 2014 NBA draft. And without a definite first-round pick in 2015 (traded to Phoenix, top-five protected) or a tradable player with value on the roster, they have no assets to package together for an attempt to move up.
Unfortunately, all the top prizes in this draft will likely be off the board when the Lakers are on the clock.
But the tier their draft slot falls in should still offer potential franchise cornerstones. These guys won't necessarily be game-changers; rather, they are the necessary building blocks with which teams need to surround their centerpiece and other featured players.
And there's no doubting what strategy or approach the Lakers should take when making their selection. General manager Mitch Kupchak will be operating in best-player-available mode, regardless of position.
Forget about who's NBA-ready or not. No prospect at No. 7 overall is going to single-handedly improve this Lakers' team in 2014-15.
Assuming Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum are off the board, the Lakers will likely be deciding between three or four prospects who offer strong value smack in the middle of the lottery.
Plan A: Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'9.5", PF, Freshman, 18 years old
Nobody offers a better balance of safety and upside than Vonleh. The only question regarding his outlook centers around his developmental timetable.
At 6'9.5" with a 247-pound frame and massive 7'4.25" wingspan, Vonleh has a body built for the NBA's interior, with a go-to skill set in the post to match it. He didn't get to show it off often enough as a freshman, but when given the opportunity, he posed as an option you can dump it into, given his touch with both hands, high release point and polished moves with his back to the rim.
He actually put up numbers pretty similar to Kentucky's Julius Randle, only he did so with significantly fewer touches in Indiana's offense. With a usage rate of just 21.4 percent (compared to Randle's 25.4 percent), Vonleh averaged just 2.4 fewer points, around the same number of rebounds and more blocks per 40 minutes. He also flashed a jumper that doesn't yet exist in Randle's repertoire.
|Stats Per 40 Minutes|
|Noah Vonleh||Julius Randle|
Plus, Vonleh is nearly a year younger than Randle with four extra inches of length to his wingspan.
If I'm the Utah Jazz, I wouldn't let Vonleh get by me at No. 5, but if he slips to the Lakers at No. 7, they must pull the trigger.
Plan B: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'3", PG/SG, Sophomore, 20 years old
You really can't make up much of an argument against Smart here at No. 7, unless a better option happens to fall into L.A.'s lap.
Smart would give the Lakers a playmaker in the backcourt—a physical weapon at 227 pounds who excels at both ends of the floor. The fact that he has two years of seasoning is just an extra perk for a team that likely would rather land a prospect ready to compete right away.
The Lakers also finished 29th in the NBA last year in points given up per game. Smart finished tied for second in the nation in steals as a freshman and third as a sophomore. He's a lockdown defender with the strength, length and quickness to pose as a serious backcourt disruption.
And you know Kobe Bryant is going to love Smart's competitive edge. He gives off the impression he'd run through traffic for a win.
"I hate to lose, just like he does," Smart said referring to Bryant, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. "Everybody knows that Kobe Bryant is one of the more fierce competitors to ever play the game. So being able to play alongside of him and learn from him and take what he teaches is an honor in itself."
Whether you consider him a point guard, a 2-guard or a combo...who cares? He's a playmaker with terrific passing instincts who can create for teammates, take over games as a scorer and lock down the perimeter. Smart should be able to fit into whatever lineup he's thrown into.
If Vonleh and Smart are gone by No. 7, which is entirely possible, the Lakers shouldn't look beyond two names on the board: Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle.
This is the next tier of prospects. Anyone else should be considered too much of a reach.
Aaron Gordon versus Julius Randle
Of the American prospects, Gordon and Randle appear to offer the most upside of anyone left. And given their strengths, both seem like a pretty safe bet in terms of making an both a short- and long-term impact.
The argument for Gordon is that he's a two-way player—arguably the draft's most versatile defensive weapon. And at 6'9", he'd give a showtime city a showtime athlete. Gordon's athleticism is special, as are his intangibles. He's a heads-up passer with a high basketball IQ and a live motor.
Gordon is also the youngest American in the draft—he won't turn 19 until September.
The argument against Gordon is that he's extremely raw offensively. And raw, underdeveloped offensive players typically need talent surrounding them to succeed. Take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, for example, who struggled when he had to create his own shot.
Right now, Los Angeles lacks reliable playmakers or setup men. Gordon is the type of young player who's going to be more effective with better players around him.
Randle seemed ideal at No. 7, until Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his patented news bombs. According to Wojnarowski, Randle's medicals have teams a bit worried about his foot. Possible surgery would knock him out for six to eight weeks this summer, which could put him behind the eight ball as training camp arrives.
The first question is whether we're talking about a potential chronic injury or long-term concern. This could be much ado about nothing, or it could be something more problematic.
The second question for the Lakers is whether offseason surgery is something they can stomach. Last year, Anthony Bennett and Alex Len both sat out the summers recovering from surgeries, and neither did anything as rookies after getting late starts.
However, if this "injury" is nothing, which it very well could be, Randle seems like a solid pickup for the Lakers seven picks deep. A double-double machine with the ability to take over games in the paint, Randle brings a sense of toughness that can enhance a team's identity.
Whether he possesses All-Star upside is debatable, but there's no doubt he has the potential to evolve into a valuable long-term starting power forward.
Regardless of whom the Lakers take, they really can't go wrong with either Gordon or Randle at this point. And that's why they shouldn't look to trade back. It doesn't appear that anyone else down the board is capable of making the same impact as Gordon or Randle.
So, if faced with this choice on draft night, who should the Lakers take?
Plan C: Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9", PF, Freshman, 18 years old
Hopefully, the Lakers won't have to resort to Plan C, but Gordon wouldn't be a bad consolation prize.
You take Gordon because he offers something that's tough to get a hold of: valuable defensive versatility paired with high-end offensive upside. Think Shawn Marion in his prime.
Randle doesn't offer much of anything defensively. Gordon has the size and length to guard 4s or small 5s, and the lightning-quick speed to defend wings and guards on the perimeter.
He finished with the fastest shuttle run time at the NBA combine, which measures how fast a player changes directions. Gordon finished No. 1 in all of college basketball in defensive win shares as a freshman. He has incredible range, as he covers a ton of ground. And NBA coaches will love his defensive IQ in terms of helping and rotating.
Offensively, there's no doubt he's a work in progress, but when you take into account his 39-inch vertical leap, his finishing ability and improved jumper, which he hit on a respectable 35.6 percent of his three-point attempts, the room he has to grow is enormous.
Gordon isn't going to single-handedly help the Lakers reach the playoffs in 2014-15. But neither will anyone else.
Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster identified Gordon as a proper selection for Los Angeles:
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.
|2014 NBA Draft Big Board|
|6||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|13||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|20||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||SF||Sophomore|
|21||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends (D-League)||SG||(Junior)|
|28||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||SF||Sophomore|
|29||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||SF||Senior|
- Though it seems like a long shot, I continue to hear buzz about the Milwaukee Bucks' interest in Dante Exum, who will be working out for them this weekend, according to multiple reports. I'm a big-time Exum fan, and I think he'll be great, but I just don't know how the Bucks can pass on Jabari Parker. He fits perfectly into that rotation at the 3 or 4. He gives them an immediate face and contribution. And he's easily the surest thing on the board. If the Bucks take Exum, it would mean that Parker and Wiggins just didn't make a strong enough impression.
- Marcus Smart is expected to work out for the Orlando Magic for the second time, per Brian K. Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. Based on upside, it's only natural to think the Magic would be higher on Exum. But Smart could be a sneaky pick there, given the certainty he offers as a prospect and the need he fills as a passer.
- ESPN.com's Chad Ford is reporting (subscription required) that the Chicago Bulls could be looking to package together No. 16 and No. 19 in an attempt to move up to No. 11. If that's the case, they clearly have their sights set on one or two specific guys they really like. Assuming they're looking for some shot-making, Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas could be targets. However, if I were Chicago, I'd sit tight. The Bulls could get similar value a few picks later at No. 16, whether it's James Young or Rodney Hood. And they wouldn't have to give up No. 19, which they could certainly use. If you're going to trade two assets for one, that one better be worth it.
Note: All player measurables via NBA.com.