If Lakers Keep Their Lottery Pick, Don't Assume They Target Lonzo Ball

Kevin DingNBA Senior WriterMay 9, 2017

UCLA guard Lonzo Ball (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — One week from now, "Lakers 2.0," as new general manager Rob Pelinka calls it, will be roaring forward with a new level of optimization and the guarantee of enhanced content in the form of a top-three draft pick…or it won't.

Either the Lakers will start locking in on UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, Kansas forward Josh Jackson and under-the-radar Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox—the four players they are most considering in the top three, according to league sourcesor they won't.

Pelinka's smarts, Magic Johnson's leadership and Luke Walton's affability won't have anything to do with which way it goes next Tuesday during the NBA draft lottery. It all comes down to luck.

There is a 46.9 percent chance the pingpong balls bounce their way and the Lakers select in the top three. Statistically, however, the more likely scenario is that they fall outside of the top three, in which case the pick will go to the Philadelphia 76ers as a result of the Lakers' 2012 Steve Nash acquisition. (The Suns later traded L.A.'s first-rounder to Philly.)

As uninspiring as it is to ascribe our successes or failures in life to pure luck, it's impossible to ignore the element of randomness as Pelinka, Johnson and Walton attend their first NBA Draft Combine together this week in Chicago. The Lakers' eagerness to get to know Fultz and Fox, who are scheduled to be thereBall and Jackson are passing it upwill be moot if the organization doesn't keep its pick.

For now, there is nothing the Lakers can do but plan for the best.

And at the moment, their best-case scenario is landing one of the aforementioned college freshmen, with no qualms if they can't move up to No. 1 or No. 2 overall.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - March 10: Rob Pelinka is introduced as the new Lakers General Manager by Magic Johnson at Toyota Sports Center on March 10, 2017 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or u
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

With the third-worst record in the NBA last season, the Lakers are believed to be open-minded to the possibility that Jackson or Fox could be an even better choice than one of the current consensus top two, Ball or Fultz.

As neat of a match as it would be for high-profile local product Ball to land with the Lakers, as he and his father are publicly pining to happen, the Lakers have not put Ball on a pedestal as their potential savior, according to sources. He is a strong contender to be at the top of their list after all of the workouts are done (assuming they keep their pick), as his court vision impresses them a lot more than his father's presence scares them. But Fultz also is a tantalizing option, as is the upside Jackson and Fox each offer.

Jackson, who many mock drafters project to go third overall, is a defensive dynamo who might lack the shot-creation skills to become a star. But he may also be a better fit alongside D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram than another point guard, although the possibility of a trade for high-end, established NBA talent also increases dramatically if the Lakers have that top-three pick in hand.

Fox's presence in the Lakers' current top four might be the most surprising, as some view him as closer to the bottom of the top 10, especially with Ball and Fultz also filling point guard roles.

Fox ranks behind no one, however, when it comes to speed and athleticism. His explosiveness would be a fascinating complement to Russell's craftiness and Ingram's length.

At 6'4" with defensive tenacity, Fox projects as a valuable weapon at both ends, with the ability to go from one baseline to the other in a John Wall-like blink. He has to improve his perimeter shot, but his mechanics are solid, and he outscored Ball 39-10 during Kentucky's Sweet 16 elimination of UCLA (with Johnson and Pelinka in attendance).

Wade Payne/Associated Press

Fox's passion for the game is one fundamental piece of his puzzle, and such intangibles will be what the Lakers try to pin down through individual meetings and workouts.

At lottery time two years ago, the Lakers might've leaned toward Jahlil Okafor over Russell just from their respective college play, but the predraft process provided clarity. Much more information will be coming again this year.

For now, though, the Lakers are just hoping they get to pick, and they're keeping an open mind as to whether Ball, Fultz, Jackson or Fox will be the best of the bunch.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinDing.