The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday night with a lot at stake—an 82.8 percent chance of keeping their top-five-protected draft pick.
To be betrayed by the bouncing ping-pong balls would have been a cruel fate for a team whose 61-loss season was bitter enough.
But after so many recent disappointments, the Lakers saw their fortunes improve in a major way—landing the No. 2 overall pick.
It is the kind of opportunity that can change the landscape in Los Angeles and it will help guide the entire offseason, including free agency.
In addition to the second overall selection, the L.A. front office will have two additional bites at the apple—the Nos. 27 and 34 picks. And that means up to 80 players will be brought to L.A. for workouts per Bill Oram of The Orange County Register.
“Because players that could be taken at (No.) 34,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, “you’ve got to bring in players that might be taken at 50 and players that might be taken in the 20s, just to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.”
The Lakers have real needs across the board but some areas are more egregiously lacking then others. At the top of the list is an elite big man and the No. 2 pick will make that a reality.
No. 2, Karl-Anthony Towns, C Kentucky
The Minnesota Timberwolves claimed the top prize at the lottery Tuesday night. But as Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding notes, there is a belief the Timberwolves might pass on Karl-Anthony Towns—widely considered the No. 1 pick—in favor of Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.
Towns is a beast in the paint, a defensive tour-de-force. And nobody, but nobody actually thought the Lakers had a shot at him. But now they do.
If L.A. ends up with Okafor instead there will be no shame—he’s a more finessed player and an elite scorer in the post. But Towns would be an ultimate fit for the defense-first philosophy of Lakers head coach Byron Scott. The 19-year-old is also no slouch on the offensive end.
At 7’0” and 250 pounds, Towns improved throughout his freshman year and made it to the Final Four, averaging 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in just 21.6 minutes per game in conference play.
In a recent Sports Illustrated roundtable, Ben Golliver picked Towns over Okafor as his best big-man prospect:
To me, the determining factor is how much of an ideal centerpiece Towns is due to his offensive versatility, intelligence and length as a defender. On offense, Towns should find success in lots of ways: as an interior scorer, spot-up shooter and passer, pick-and-roll menace, and potential three-point threat. It shouldn't matter whether your second-best player is a ball-dominant guard, a sharpshooting wing or a low-post big man, Towns should be able to function well with any and all of them.
Imagine Towns in a frontcourt partnership with the Lakers’ No. 7 pick from last year—Julius Randle, also from Kentucky. Randle missed his rookie season with a broken leg but will be ready to go in the fall. His penchant for ball-handling and a nice ability to distribute as well as score would fit nicely alongside Towns.
No. 27, Robert Upshaw, C Washington
Robert Upshaw is one of the true wild cards of the draft. He could be an NBA star or he could be just another cautionary tale.
For starters, this guy is a legitimate 7-footer whose wingspan measured 7’ 5.5” at the combine. He also has a standing reach of 9’5” which is not a bad tool to have with a 10-foot basket.
The center averaged 10.9 points, 8.2 boards and 4.5 blocks in just 24.9 minutes per game at Washington this past season.
He was kicked off two teams within three seasons, including at his hometown school after two suspensions, has been dogged by off-court problems as the former programs stick with the purposely vague explanation that Robert Upshaw violated team rules and NBA front offices recite a list of specifics, and he spent time at John Lucas' treatment program in Houston.
More recently, Upshaw has worked to turn things around, per Percy Allen of the The Seattle Times:
Since his UW dismissal, Upshaw has hired Bill Duffy as an agent. He’s been working out at P3 (Peak Performance Project) in Santa Barbara, Calif. to improve his strength and conditioning. He’s hired a life coach and he’s been receiving mentoring from Bill Walton.
One could question picking a second big man after already securing either Towns or Okafor. But loading up on a premier shot-swatter like Upshaw would give the Lakers further incentive to forgo their $9 million option on Jordan Hill.
Nobody knows how the 21-year-old’s life or career will turn out. But this is a gamble that is guaranteed to pique L.A.’s interest—Upshaw could wind up being a draft steal and one of the league’s premier defensive stoppers.
Other possibilities at the No. 27 slot would be shooting guard Rashad Vaughn from UNLV and swingman Jarrell Martin from LSU.
No. 34, Tyler Harvey, SG Eastern Washington
The Lakers need shooters in the worst way—especially those who can come off screens in Scott’s Princeton-based system.
Tyler Harvey from Eastern Washington is that guy. But interestingly, the nation’s top collegiate scorer doesn’t have much of a presence on mock draft boards. He’s No. 37 on the latest USA Today Sports poll, No. 55 by Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports and dead-last at No. 60 on Draft Express.
But low expectations aside, Harvey does have a very translatable NBA skill set—putting the biscuit in the bucket from long distance, and at a remarkably efficient rate.
The 6’4” shooting guard averaged 23.1 points this season with an overall field goal percentage of 46.9 percent and an outrageous 43.1 percent from behind the arc. He also had a true shooting percentage of 64.3 percent per Sports-Reference.
Harvey is adept at coming off curls and flares and finding quick-release catch-and-shoot opportunities. This is a style tailor-made to Scott’s preference for back-screens and off-ball play.
As Vecenie of CBS Sports points out, however, Harvey isn’t limited to spot-up scoring:
In fact, Harvey was the nation's best shooter off the dribble this season among players that had at least 50 attempts, converting at a rate of 1.412 points-per-possession. That dwarfed his closest competition nationally, Corey Hawkins of UC Davis at 1.265. Particularly, Harvey possesses a terrific step-back jumper from 3-point range that he often utilizes in pick-and-roll situations.
So why hasn’t the 21-year-old from Torrance, California attracted more attention?
He doesn’t have great size at the 2-guard position and also isn’t known for his defense. Plus, the level of competition in the Big Sky Conference simply doesn’t measure up to collegiate superpowers.
Nonetheless, the Lakers would do well to take a chance on a shooter whose style could complement their system.
There are many other candidates to consider, especially given the cattle call that will be invited to L.A. workouts before draft night. But a top-of-the-board big man, a wild-card shot-blocker and a specialty shooter, are certain to draw interest in the weeks ahead.
With the luck of the lottery, something has finally gone right for a team coming off its worst season ever.
College stats per Sports-Reference