X

Los Angeles Lakers Strike 2015 NBA Draft Lottery Gold to Expedite Rebuild

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2015

NEW YORK - MAY 19: NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces the 3rd pick goes to Los Angeles Lakers during the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery on May 19, 2015 at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The 2015 NBA draft lottery was largely devoid of theatrics, with one glaring purple and gold exception.

Despite entering the night with percentages pointing to a likelihood of drafting outside of the top three, the Los Angeles Lakers were the beneficiary of kind ping-pong ball bounces that resulted in a climb up the final order.

ESPN Stats & Info relayed the official outcome shortly after the lottery's completion: 

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Timberwolves: picking 1st for 1st time in franchise history Last Lakers top-2 pick: James Worthy (1982) http://t.co/h3lqBHGOIw

After avoiding disaster and maintaining a grip on their top-five protected selection that had a 17.2 percent chance of conveying to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers actually leap-frogged them and claimed the No. 2 overall pick. 

According to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell, Los Angeles was the only team that saw its draft fortune change positively Tuesday night: 

Mike Trudell @LakersReporter

The Lakers were the only team to move up in the draft, essentially swapping slots with the Knicks.

Take it from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' franchise-worst 61-loss season earned them the right to bask in the glow of positivity: 

Kobe Bryant @kobebryant

We played like crap all season so it's only right we get the #2 pick HA #lakerluck #goodday

With an injury-riddled and downright disastrous campaign behind them, the Lakers can finally look forward to a season filled with prospect development and tangible improvement in the win column. 

Although the No. 2 pick hardly assures the Lakers will snap their two-year postseason drought in a fiercely competitive Western Conference, they will have options galore after the Minnesota Timberwolves initiate the proceedings at No. 1 overall. 

No wonder the franchise is reveling in relief, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan: 

Mike Bresnahan @Mike_Bresnahan

You can already feel the Lakers' burden lifted when talking to team officials. Something finally went right for them.

The reasons are obvious.

Nearly every possibility is open to the Lakers at No. 2—which wouldn't have been true at No. 4 or No. 5. Instead of turning their attention to Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson or even Emmanuel Mudiay—all terrific prospects in their own right—the Lakers can strike gold and snag a top-flight big or the draft's best guard. 

That leaves three logical choices for the Lakers. However, it's a select list that will presumably be whittled down to two names once the Timberwolves take care of business in the leadoff spot.

Of primary concern here are Kentucky hybrid big Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke center Jahlil Okafor and Ohio State combo-guard D'Angelo Russell. 

Among that group, there's no wrong answer. There are merely varying degrees of right. 

If the Lakers determine they want to build from the inside out, Okafor could be their guy. He's a classic low-post bruiser with silky smooth footwork and a dreamy jump hookone that conjures up images of franchise centerpieces past. 

"Because of Okafor's huge hand size and court vision, he has total control and mastery of the ball," Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling wrote. "He can hold the ball out well with one hand and make over-the-shoulder passes to cutters or zip passes to teammates in the baseline corner." 

Okafor's a future double-double machine waiting to unleash his fury on opponents, and his ability to provide interior stability year after year can't be discounted as the Lakers weigh their options.

However, if there's one knock on the former Dukie, it's his lack of versatility. Okafor never looked comfortable on defense during his freshman season, and an inability to protect the rim could cap his perceived upside. 

A league executive elaborated on the matter, per Zwerling:

Let's assume that argument is right with Duke—that he was saved, he was never coached and he wants to play D. He's still not going to block shots. He's also going to have a hard time chasing around perimeter 4's. He's an offensive-minded 5. I think with Okafor, you need a guy like [Serge] Ibaka next to him—a guy that cleans up the glass and blocks shots.

That brings us to Towns, who is sort of like the bizarro Okafor.  

While Okafor's offensive game is already insanely refined, Towns is still developing the skills that will make him a coveted building block. However, it's upside and untapped potential that make him such an intriguing get at the top of the draft, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding: 

KEVIN DING @KevinDing

Okafor is already a polished low-post offensive weapon, but Towns can and will do more NBA things (especially shoot with range, defend P&R).

In that regard, Towns is a better fit for the Lakers as presently constructed. Julius Randle—last year's first-round pick—isn't an above-the-rim player, and his freshman year at Kentucky pointed to a preference to play below the free-throw line. 

Towns, then, can be a worthy complement. While Okafor and Randle prefer to operate from similar areas of the floor, Towns could gradually help space things out as his mid-range and long-range jumpers improve.  

"He didn't show much of that at Kentucky, only taking eight threes on the year (of which he made two), but his excellent shooting mechanics, combined with his outstanding 82 percent free-throw percentage as a freshman, leads you to believe he'll continue to hone this part of his game in the NBA," DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony wrote.

The 19-year-old also flashed scary ability to explode and finish as a rim-runner and roll man.  

On defense, Towns is also head-and-shoulders above his primary competition for the No. 1 pick.

"Towns is better laterally in pick-and-rolls than Okafor," a league executive told Zwerling. "[Towns] is going to have an easier time guarding perimeter 4's. And I think you could also play him at the 4 offensively."

In that sense, Towns gives the Lakers flexibility—the one thing NBA teams can't get enough of these days. Multi-positionality is coveted 1-5, evidenced by teams' preferences to play position-less lineups. Sneak a peek at the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks or Utah Jazz and it's clear the league is trending in a direction that will allow antiquated labels such as power forward and point guard to die. 

But if the Lakers' preferred big is gone by the time they're on the clock, perhaps Russell will tickle their fancy.

According to Bresnahan, L.A. isn't tipping its hand one way or the other at this early juncture:  

Mike Bresnahan @Mike_Bresnahan

Scott reluctant to say Lakers would automatically take whichever big man fell their way at No. 2. Wants to see all top prospects work out.

ESPN NBA Insider Chad Ford provided a bit more insight into the Lakers' decision-making process as it pertains to Russell:  

Chad Ford @chadfordinsider

If Towns is gone, Lakers like Okafor, but also need Russell’s shooting

Interest would certainly make sense. The Lakers are returning just two reliable ball-handlers next season in Jordan Clarkson and Kobe Bryant. However, Bryant will be 37 when the 2015-16 campaign tips off, and L.A. needs to start planning for a day when he won't be around to bail out the offense.

Russell can be that future safeguard.

Smooth as Okafor is in the post, Russell may be smoother on the perimeter. He controls the ball on a string, isn't afraid to slash to the bucket and he fits the mold of a modern ball-handler with his ability to create his own shot or dish to open teammates when necessary.

For a Lakers team that ranked 21st in assists and 20th in ball-handler scoring in the pick-and-roll, Russell and his one-stop shop for all things offense could represent the safest way to kick-start the rebuild—one that's looking more promising by the day. 

Randle and Kobe are on the mend, Clarkson was just elected to the NBA's All-Rookie First Team and the front office has plenty of cap space to work with. Specifically, the Lakers are entering the summer with just over $35 million in guarantees on their books, according to Basketball Insiders. That much room can open up a host of opportunities when it comes to luring big-name free agents this summer and next.  

With more than a month to go, the process is variable. Interviews still need to be conducted, workouts have to be held and intense deliberation is bound to take place.

But at this point, one thing is clear: The Lakers benefited from a bit of good fortune, and that initial brushstroke of luck could pave the way toward another masterpiece getting painted.

  

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless noted otherwise.  

Alec Nathan covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AlecBNathan.