With just 18 games left in a historically abysmal season, the Los Angeles Lakers continue their implacable march to the only prize that still matters—the 2016 NBA draft.
L.A. has a top-three protected pick this year, and this brings up the obvious possibility of selecting a collegiate star to complement a roster that is already youth-heavy. But in order to get there, the second-to-worst team in the league will still have to survive the bouncing ping-pong balls on lottery night.
If the Lakers drop below the third position, they’ll have to hand over their booty to the worst team in basketball, the Philadelphia 76ers. This is due to Philadelphia landing the rights to the pick via a trade with the Phoenix Suns, who previously acquired it in the 2012 Steve Nash transaction.
Talk about rubbing salt in the wound!
Nonetheless, let’s assume L.A.’s free fall will now resume, the lottery treats them kindly and the end result is another arrow in their Generation Y quiver.
Ben Simmons, LSU, F
There’s only one choice if the Lakers draw the top overall pick, and that’s LSU’s freshman star, Ben Simmons. Louisiana’s season has been disappointing at 18-13, but Simmons—averaging 19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game—is now ready to conquer the NBA.
The 6’10” native Australian has been compared to none other than LeBron James for his multi-positional stat-stuffing talent—a combo forward with point guard skills who drives to the basket, collapses defenses and shares the rock.
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Comparing the reedy Simmons to such an iconic powerhouse might be a stretch, but even LBJ is drinking the Kool-Aid.
“I’ve watched him a lot, but I've watched him way before he showed up at Baton Rouge,” James said per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I've been on him for probably three or four years now, and he's an unbelievable talent.”
Try wrapping your head around two versatile lefties, Simmons and Julius Randle, playing together in the same frontcourt. That’s a lot of coast-to-coast fluidity for a head coach to choreograph effectively. Let’s hope Byron Scott isn’t still holding the grease-board by then.
Brandon Ingram, Duke, SF
If Simmons is the obvious first choice, Brandon Ingram isn’t that far behind. The small forward from Duke would also fill a real position of need for L.A.—Nick Young’s more of a shoot-only wing, and second-round rookie Anthony Brown has 3-and-D potential but only played sparsely and inconsistently before his recent right foot stress fracture.
Ingram isn’t as quick on his feet as Brown, but he does have an impressive offensive skill set—a lanky 6’9” frontcourt standout with a crazy 7’3” wingspan who slashes and blows through the competition like a much-smaller player.
Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman writes it’s “not crazy to think Ingram can become a 20-point-per-game NBA scorer.” Wasserman further adds:
Though it's tough to picture him leapfrogging LSU's Ben Simmons on many draft boards, Ingram will certainly have a good chance to follow him at No. 2. The Los Angeles Lakers, who currently have the second-worst record in the league, would ultimately seem like a strong fit for Ingram, given the team's need for another weapon between Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
Ingram is averaging 16.7 points, 6.8 boards, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals, while nailing 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season.
Jaylen Brown, California, SF
As luck would have it for L.A., the top of the draft is filled with quality wings. Jaylen Brown of California is a strong, athletic two-way player who combines raw power with an evolving floor game. As muscular and athletic as the 19-year-old is now, picture him in a few years as a fully developed product.
Brown doesn’t have the length of Simmons or Ingram, but he packs plenty of strength into his 6’7” frame and has cagey, shifty moves—combining superior speed in transition with a steadily progressing willingness to shift gears and let the game come to him.
Cal Men's Basketball @calmensbball
Via @espn: Wooden Watch- Jaylen Brown's highlight reel: https://t.co/Yps71yyHxR #GladHesOurs2016-3-3 20:08:08
Averaging 15.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game, Brown does a little of everything. He can handle the ball, has a competent jumper that will only get better over time and is adept at drawing fouls when driving to the rim.
The freshman star also has plenty of potential at the other end of the court, using his strength and quickness to disrupt opposing players. Whether he fills the immediate need of a starting small forward for an already young team is a huge question mark. But Brown has a ton of future upside.
Kris Dunn, Providence, PG
What if the Lakers wind up with the third pick on draft night but subsequently trade down? It’s not the most likely scenario, but it could happen.
In such a case, consider Providence’s four-year man Kris Dunn—a point guard with innate passing skills and creativity that often leaves defenders befuddled.
Chris Farrow @chrisjfarrow
From @ESPNStatsInfo: Kris Dunn ONLY player in the nation averaging at least 17 pts, 5 reb, 6 assists & 3 steals per game @GoodmanESPN2016-2-19 01:36:33
But doesn’t L.A. already have such a player in Russell? Yes, they do. But the mercurial second overall pick has had an uneven rookie season, partly through a propensity to launch three-point attempts rather than making the extra pass, and also due to less than consistent direction or trust from Scott.
With a summer of free agency and potential trades ahead, it’s not a lock Russell will emerge on the other side wearing purple and gold.
Dunn brings a level of maturity that comes through time and adversity. The 6’4” guard with a 6’9” wingspan experienced shoulder injuries his first two seasons, and dropped out of a probable lottery selection as a junior in order to return to school.
The 21-year-old still hasn’t reached his full potential—his shooting can be suspect and he gambles away the ball too often. But the Lakers will still be eyeing his quick first step, superb ball-handling skills and the havoc he creates on defense—just to cover all eventualities.
College statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.