Sometimes second place is as good as a win.
While the Minnesota Timberwolves won the 2015 NBA draft lottery and the No. 1 pick that comes with it, the Los Angeles Lakers are sitting pretty with the No. 2 selection. That means even if the Timberwolves select Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, the Lakers will have the opportunity to take the other big man.
That appears to be the plan, given this rumor from Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
It is clear why landing that No. 2 spot was so important. With two potentially elite big men in this draft, the only way to ensure a shot at one of them was with the fortunate bounce of the ping-pong balls. Sure, D'Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow and Emmanuel Mudiay could develop into stars, but drafting one of those big men would make the Lakers playoff contenders as soon as next season.
Superstar Kobe Bryant—whose impending return from a shoulder injury is one reason Los Angeles could contend for the playoffs next year—reacted to the news:
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times passed along head coach Byron Scott's reaction to the second pick:
Owning that second pick also takes some of the pressure off the decision-making process come draft day, as Larry Coon of ESPN.com pointed out:
Now that the lottery is in the rear-view mirror, it is time to look ahead to what the roster will look like with either Towns or Okafor. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times did not shy away from assigning significant meaning to the upcoming draft pick:
Either Towns or Okafor would bolster Los Angeles' immediate playoff chances. Towns is a defensive force who averaged 2.3 blocks per game in a mere 21.1 minutes a night during his one season at Kentucky. If those numbers are projected to 40 minutes a night, we are almost talking about five blocks per game.
There is a reason he dominated the paint at the college level. His athleticism allows him to cover the entire baseline in half-court defense, and his incredible jumping ability helps him swat plenty of shots in the lane. He single-handedly alters offensive game plans because of his prowess near the rim, and those physical traits aren't going to disappear once he enters the NBA.
As for Okafor, he is an offensive machine who is ready to come into the NBA and contribute right away. He is a walking double-double who led the Duke Blue Devils to the national title alongside Winslow and Tyus Jones and can score in a number of ways.
Between his back-to-the-basket strength, soft touch around the rim and passing skills when double-teams come his way, Okafor is a threat to win Rookie of the Year in Lakers' purple and gold.
Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports discussed what Okafor's presence would mean for Los Angeles:
The future certainly looks much brighter for the Lakers with Okafor (or Towns) in a rotation that includes Bryant, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
Bryant is no longer arguably the league's best player like he was in his prime, but he is still a proven NBA star who will continue to adapt his game as he ages. Bryant averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game during the 2014-15 campaign before he was lost for the season with injury. Those numbers are respectable for anyone at any age, let alone a 36-year-old who was in his 19th season.
Clarkson was named to the NBA All-Rookie first team, and Randle was the No. 7 overall pick in the draft before he broke his leg during the first game of the season. Both players have a bright future, and playing alongside a center such as Okafor or Towns who attracts extra defensive attention would open up easier opportunities.
A core of Bryant, Clarkson, Randle and Okafor or Towns isn't going to win a title, but it is talented enough to at least contend for a playoff spot next season.
The Lakers may even add a game-changing free agent, as Mark Schanowski of Comcast SportsNet Chicago pointed out:
Vecenie suggested that landing a big man in the draft would do nothing to deter Kevin Love from signing in Los Angeles:
Some of these scenarios are something of a pipe dream (how about a lineup of Rajon Rondo, Bryant, Love, Randle and Okafor?), but things certainly are trending in the right direction for the Lakers.
It would be surprising (given the tone of Schanowski's tweet) if Los Angeles failed to sign a single impact free agent, and the young talent in place around Bryant is already enticing before Okafor or Towns is added to the picture.
The Western Conference is loaded, but the Lakers will once again be a part of the discussion next season. That is all they can ask for after finishing with a 21-61 record in 2014-15.