2015 NBA Draft: Los Angeles Lakers' Biggest Needs

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 5, 2015

2015 NBA Draft: Los Angeles Lakers' Biggest Needs

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    The Los Angeles Lakers haven't historically used the NBA draft to fill their needs, instead relying on free agency and trades to vault right back into the realm of contenders. But things are different in 2015, as the Purple and Gold are coming off arguably their worst back-to-back seasons ever and heading into the selection process with quite a few needs. 

    Somehow, 2014-15 was only the second time in franchise history that the Lakers had failed to win at least 25 games. Their 21 wins won't go down as the fewest, thanks to a 19-53 Minneapolis Lakers bunch in 1957-58, but their win percentage was actually lower than any other iteration.

    With limited talent and an injured Kobe Bryant, they were just that bad. 

    Now, the 2015 NBA draft offers a chance to turn things around.

    Following some fortuitous bounces of the pingpong balls in the draft lottery, the Lakers will trail only the Minnesota Timberwolves in the June 25 proceedings, then they'll have two more picks later on in the night. There's a chance to add some serious talent to a depleted roster virtually devoid of long-term keepers, and they can't afford to misfire. 

    Of course, there are many needs heading into the offseason. That much should be blindingly obvious after a 21-win season filled with humiliating outings.

    But some needs still stand out above the rest. 

Talent with the Later Picks

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Fortunately, the Los Angeles Lakers have more than one pick to work with. 

    Thanks to the Houston Rockets, the Purple and Gold will also be on the clock with the No. 27 pick in the first round, and they'll be up again after six more players have come off the board. With these selections, Los Angeles doesn't have to focus on filling specific needs—though we'll cover how it could do so with them later.

    Instead, it's just all about acquiring as much talent as possible. 

    At this point, the Lakers aren't very competitive. There's no way around that simple fact, and there won't be unless the franchise manages to strike gold on the free-agent market. After all, how many players are actually keepers on this roster? 

    Kobe Bryant is expected to be around for just one more year, and that leaves Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and potentially free-agent big men such as Ed Davis and Jordan Hill. Maybe Tarik Black, Jabari Brown and other young contributors earn the right to stick around as bench players, though counting on that isn't exactly advantageous. That's about it, especially after Nick Young's disappointing season. 

    The Lakers simply need to find young players who are capable of filling in rotation spots on a competitive team. They need to unearth another Clarkson, as they did with the No. 46 pick of the 2014 NBA draft. 

    If a prospect is inexplicably falling down the boards, snatch him up. Don't worry about the position he plays; just figure out if he's good enough at basketball to become a key cog in the future plans. 

    In an ideal world, the Lakers manage to get their hands on a promising wing player (R.J. Hunter) at No. 27 and then an underrated point guard (Delon Wright) at No. 34. But even if those exact players are off the board, there will be plenty of options available to this downtrodden franchise—including the possibility of packaging the picks and moving up in the selection process. 

    Repeat after me: Talent, talent, talent and more talent. 

3. A Point Guard

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    Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Jordan Clarkson was a great find for the Los Angeles Lakers, but is he really a natural point guard? 

    The Missouri product is much better suited in a role that allows him to play both the 1 and 2, especially because of his aggressive scoring mentality and lackluster passing skills. As excellent as he may have been during his inaugural NBA campaign, he still averaged only 5.0 assists per 36 minutes.

    Writing for ESPN.com, Amin Elhassan explained that Clarkson was good enough to ensure that point guard isn't a glaring need, but not quite good enough that the Lakers should take all 1-guards off the draft board:

    I'm not writing his ticket to Springfield just yet, but the Lakers uncovered a gem in the second round in Jordan Clarkson, who came on strong in the second half of the season. He's not a pure point guard, and I wouldn't turn away more qualified (and talented) applicants should they present themselves, but Clarkson is solid enough for the time being.

    D'Angelo Russell is a player capable of proving it's worth drafting a point guard. 

    Chances are, the Lakers won't have to select him, as they have two more pressing needs with the No. 2 pick. But he'd still be a welcome addition.

    The former Ohio State standout is a slithery southpaw who can play both on and off the ball, eerily reminiscent of Manu Ginobili and—to a lesser extent—Brandon Roy. And we can't forget about his playmaking. As Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix detailed, his head coach at Ohio State, Thad Matta, certainly doesn't: 

    Russell's strength is his playmaking; every pass has some pop behind it. On Feb. 11 against Penn State, Russell zipped a chest pass from half-court through the defense for a layup. 'Took less than a second,' says Matta. 'Hit the guy right on the numbers.' Many of Russell's 97 turnovers have been due less to poor decision making than to his teammates' surprise at his ability to thread the ball through traffic. 'He sees how a play is going to develop before it does,' says the scout. 'There are not many NBA point guards that can do that. It's a Chris Paul-type skill. And he has got it.'

    Even with that Chris Paul-type skill, Russell shouldn't be the choice at No. 2. Not with more pressing needs. 

    And that means the Lakers will likely be looking to find a 1-guard with their other two picks in the draft, making Delon Wright and Andrew Harrison the premier targets to fill this already partially covered hole. 

2. Help on the Wings

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    According to Rotoworld.com's depth charts, the Los Angeles Lakers finished the season with Wayne Ellington, Nick Young, Kobe Bryant, Jabari Brown and Vander Brown at shooting guard, while Ryan Kelly and and Wes Johnson made up the small forward rotation. 

    Ouch. 

    Bryant is the only true keeper in that group, and he's potentially playing out his last year in the NBA. Acquiring more capable wings is going to be a huge priority this offseason, even if it's not likely to be addressed with the No. 2 pick in the draft. That'll be the job of free agency or the later selections at general manager Mitch Kupchak's disposal. 

    If the Lakers do defy convention and go with a wing early in the draft, Justise Winslow will be the easy pick. After playing under Mike Krzyzewski for his one and only season of collegiate basketball, he's emerged as a versatile two-way prospect who can score in just about every way imaginable. Whether he's using his athleticism to attack the basket or pulling up from the outside, he can provide offense, and he's no slouch on the defensive end, showing off impressive instincts, quick feet and strong timing. 

    But again, the Lakers have the luxury of picking at No. 2, and there are two players at the top of most draft boards who would fill the team's primary need. As a result, they're best served trying to package their two later picks together and move up to take Sam Dekker, Kelly Oubre or another fringe lottery wing. 

    And if that doesn't work out, it's time to address this need with a first-round prospect who's fallen to either No. 27 or No. 34. Justin Anderson, R.J. Hunter and Rashad Vaughn would all be great gets, and the differentiation between that trio depends on what exactly the Lakers are looking for. 

    Anderson brings tremendous physical tools and the promise of a three-and-D commodity. Hunter is one of the more deadly scorers expected to be available fairly late in the proceedings, and his mechanics offer hope that he'll be one of the class' better marksmen. Vaughn is easily the rawest of the three, but he should be able to overcome the knee injury that cut his freshman year short at UNLV and improve as both a perimeter scorer and high-quality defender. 

1. Franchise Centerpiece at the 5

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    Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    As of now, the Los Angeles Lakers do not have their center of the future on the roster. 

    Julius Randle will settle in as a power forward, while Ed Davis and Jordan Hill can both be rotation players if they stick around. Neither of the latter two are going to be stars, and the Lakers were actually significantly worse in 2014-15 when either played. According to my FATS model (based on historical comparisons and explained in full here), LAL declined by 5.7 wins when Davis played and a massive 12.6 when Hill was on the floor. 

    Acquiring a center is a must with the No. 2 pick. But which one?

    Both Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns would be tremendous additions, after all. 

    Ultimately, the Lakers won't have a choice. If the Minnesota Timberwolves do the right thing and take the Kentucky product off the board with the first overall selection, Mitch Kupchak will eagerly gobble up the Duke standout. And if Flip Saunders' lingering desires aren't merely smokescreens, and the Wolves inexplicably add Okafor, Towns will be the Tinseltown selection with no questions asked. 

    The second scenario is the preferable one for Los Angeles, and not just because Towns is becoming the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in this class. As Russell Valenzuela argues during a Lakers Nation roundtable, it's the defensive upside next to Randle that pushes him over the top: 

    I will concede Towns is a better fit given his defensive upside especially when paired with Julius Randle. However, I believe Okafor is a talent the Lakers can continue to build around when Kobe Bryant is gone and retired. With big men being inappropriately seen as unimportant in today's game and the lack of quality in the league, Okafor can become something other team's will need to re-adjust their game plans around.

    Again, neither pick would be negative, and the Lakers would surely improve with Okafor's footwork and touch around the basket drawing defensive attention away from everyone else. But the rim protection and ability to stretch out the floor with a working mid-range jumper—and possible three-point range, if this video is any indication—give Towns the two-way upside that Okafor doesn't possess. 

    The Lakers don't just desire help on offense. They desperately need to become more adept at suffocating opponents, and only one of the top two players on the board can do that. 

    "Of course everyone wants to play with a legend," Towns, leaving a lunch with Randle, another former Kentucky standout, told TMZ Sports when asked about the prospect of suiting up next to Kobe Bryant.

    Well, the Lakers should want to make that a reality. They just need Minnesota to give them a chance. 

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

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