As a UCLA student who has watched 21-year-old guard Malcolm Lee for the past three years, I’ll be one of the first to tell you that he would have benefited from an extra season in Westwood. What I will also tell you, however, is that despite falling short of expectations when he came in as a freshman three years ago, Lee is one of the top defenders in this entire draft class and will be one of the top second-round steals this Thursday.
With four picks in the second round, the Lakers are lined up to be that team.
Last season, after finishing the regular season with the second best record in the stacked Western Conference, the Lakers bowed out early and ungracefully in a brief four game series to the Dallas Mavericks. After fans and media called for a significant renovation, Lakers personnel took the first step in that direction hiring former-Cavs head coach Mike Brown, a defensive-minded leader, to replace the irreplaceable Phil Jackson.
While Thursday’s draft is likely to be littered with Howard-for-Bynum and Love-for-Gasol chatter, the next step in the Lakers’ offseason plan does not need to be implemented in one swift move. As the Lakers look to build a younger squad while still contending, the best move could be simple player development.
And that’s where a high-IQ, hard-working guy like Malcolm Lee comes in.
Without a doubt, the Lakers’ largest hole last season was the point guard position. Last season’s tandem of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake brought very little to the defensively and even less offensively. The point needs to be addressed this offseason.
Back in April, it took six games and numerous failed defensive assignments for the Lakers to slow down Chris Paul. Bryant gave him a slight challenge early on and Fisher excelled finally in the decisive Game Six. Nonetheless the Lakers guards were outplayed. Falling 0-4, it goes without saying that in the series against Dallas, the Lakers guards were outplayed yet again. Offensively, Fisher and Blake contributed 10.4 points per game combined across the postseason.
With a rotation featuring stars like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum (loosely using the definition of star there), the Lakers simply need a prototypical point guard that draws a defender on offense and picks up the slack on defense. As Coach Brown has expressed recently, the point guard slot does not require an all-star caliber upgrade but simply a role-playing contributor. Again, Malcolm Lee can be that guy.
First off, it is worth pointing out that Lee has the skill set to play at either the point guard or shooting guard position. While his team leadership skills never shined through while playing at UCLA (especially after watching someone like Darren Collison), Lee proved willing and able to bring the ball up and initiate the offensive attack. Alternatively, Lee also has great size and length (6’5”, 198-lbs), as well as elite speed, allowing him to guard either the 1 or 2 on the defensive side of the ball.
While offensively his overall ability is limited by a simply average jump shot, Lee would fit into the Laker scheme perfectly as he is most effective playing a slashing point guard role. While decent off the ball, Lee’s most noteworthy plays came when he drove into the paint to 1) draw the defender, 2) take contact or 3) jam the ball home. Lee is extremely athletic and has the explosiveness and strength to finish at the rim much like fellow UCLA-alum Russell Westbrook, who Lee occasionally draws comparisons too.
On the defensive side of the ball however, Lee would be a tremendous addition to the Lakers’ guard corps. First and foremost in the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft, Lee has received numerous invitations to work out with highly touted guards including Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker solely to play defense. Reports have indicated that Lee impressed.
While Kobe is an elite defender, he showed in the 2011 playoffs that he loses some of his offensive prowess when he is forced to chase around opposing guards. With Lee’s size and lateral quickness, he can match up against and effectively slow down an array of guards ranging from Chris Paul to Monta Ellis to Eric Gordon.
Lee has even said in interviews before that he has never faced anyone that he wasn’t taller, quicker or stronger than. With an elite stopper either starting each game or coming off the bench, the Hornets and Mavericks series would have been different.
Schematically, drafting a high-upside, versatile guard like Malcolm Lee makes a lot of sense for the Los Angeles Lakers this Thursday. While he surely is not the heir to Kobe’s throne (that will only be established through trade, free agency or an early draft pick), Lee would be an effective addition to the Lakers’ offseason plan.
Lastly, as a local product out of Moreno Valley and as a UCLA-alum, Lee would be a hometown hero, bringing the spark back to Staples Center that Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza (UCLA products as well) once brought to the table.
Over the past 24 hours, rumors have been swirling that Lee is looking like a late first round, early second-round draft pick, which is a little bit closer than the Lakers’ first selection of four at 41. Whether a trade is required or not, without a doubt, Lee would make a great, low-cost addition to the team and could be the next big move in this reloading process out in Los Angeles. So who knows what happens!?
Here’s to the 2011 NBA Draft.