2018 NBA Draft: 5 Potential Gems Lakers Can Select Late in 1st Round
Before the Los Angeles Lakers journey out into the great offseason abyss and sign every big-name free agent under the moon, they have a draft to get through.
Holding the No. 25 selection in the June 21 prospect pageant doesn't put them on track to nab Hollywood's next great building block. Heck, until LeBron James and Paul George make their free-agency decisions, they cannot guarantee team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka won't use the player they choose as one of many sweeteners in a Luol Deng salary dump.
Still, the Lakers are in a comfy spot overall.
They have heaps of cap space and weren't supposed to own a first-rounder at all this year. They aren't chained to drafting for need. This pick is found money. They can experiment and reach and just generally think outside the box.
This might, on some level, consist of targeting players who make for great salary-dumping buffers. That assumption will not be made here. These players get the nod with their fit and potential with the Lakers in mind.
Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon
Why not start off this shindig with someone who could end up as a (slight) gamble at No. 25 or not be available at all?
Troy Brown is all over the damn place in mock drafts. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman had him going at No. 29 to the Brooklyn Nets in his post-lottery simulation. ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony, meanwhile, sent him to the Atlanta Hawks at No. 19.
That seems to be Brown's range: 19th overall or lower, unless the San Antonio Spurs, at No. 18, get the itch to add some Danny Green insurance. And if he falls low enough, the Lakers should take a hard look at him, if not submit the pick before commissioner Adam Silver finishes announcing who the Portland Trail Blazers are choosing at No. 24.
Brown routinely garners criticism for his from-scratch shot creation. He drained under 35 percent of his two-point jumpers at Oregon, according to Hoop-Math. His plug-and-play appeal is under fire as well; he failed to shoot even 30 percent from beyond the arc on a modest four attempts per 40 minutes.
This makes Brown something of a no-go for squads who need someone immediately comfortable hitting shots off the dribble. The Lakers aren't one of them. They have Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma to fill that quota.
Plus, Brown is far from incapable on the ball. He has played some point guard—4.1 assists per 40 minutes at Oregon—and should have little trouble initiating pick-and-rolls from the jump. He sees over most other guards at 6'7" and will keep his turnovers under control when surrounded by enough shooters.
His 74.3 percent conversion rate at the foul line also suggests he has more to offer as a jump shooter. Taking on a spot-up role beside Ingram, Kuzma and Lonzo Ball should allow him to fire off easier shots on a consistent basis.
And if it takes Brown time to get a feel for efficient NBA offense, he'll have his defense to fall back on. He can reasonably match up with three positions, and the Lakers could switch a ton when they use Kuzma at the 4, with Ball, Brown and Ingram on the perimeter.
Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
Drafting another point guard should not be off the table. On the contrary, the Lakers need an additional floor general.
After Ball, they have...Tyler Ennis (non-guaranteed). They could always bring back Isaiah Thomas or keep their fingers crossed extra tightly for LeBron James, but Jalen Brunson has the chance to be a long-term mainstay.
Lining him up against opposing starters could be problem. He's 6'3" on a good day and not particularly athletic. Backcourts with size and off-the-bounce creativity will overwhelm him.
Then again, the Lakers survived for stretches while playing Ball and Thomas together. Brunson is a more natural fit. He's in-your-face physical, not unlike former Villanova teammate and current Laker Josh Hart. He'll have a puncher's chance at standing up against league-average point men.
Brunson doesn't have the raw quickness to light up opponents with his first step, but he mitigates that with other tricks. His post game was a revelation in college, and most of his shooting numbers indicate he'd be at home as a standstill sniper and straight pick-and-roll maestro.
As The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote:
"He doesn’t have an elite first step, but he’s a great shooter (career 39.6 percent shooter from three on 3.9 attempts a game and 82 percent from the free-throw line on 3.5 attempts) with a quick release who doesn’t need much space to score. He’s in the 96th percentile of scorers in the pick-and-roll this season and in the 97th percentile when coming off screens. Maybe his most intriguing stats (courtesy of hoop-math.com) are his field goal percentages at the rim (71.3 percent) and on two-point jumpers (51.5 percent).
Los Angeles needs highish-end spacers—even more so if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope bolts in free agency. Only the Phoenix Suns put down a smaller share of their three-pointers this past season. Brunson helps stretch the floor with the added benefit of livening up the NBA's most dormant pick-and-roll attack.
Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova
We're not just cherry-picking Hart's former Villanova teammates and declaring them intriguing options for the Lakers. Promise.
Donte DiVincenzo fills a need even if Caldwell-Pope sticks around. He's more of a facilitator than either Caldwell-Pope or Hart. His assist rate climbed during each of his two-plus collegiate seasons, and the Lakers need tertiary ball-handlers to support Ball and Ingram. They could run some interchangeable half-court action with him and the former in the backcourt.
DiVincenzo has some alpha-option zip to his offensive game. His usage rate implies otherwise—it creeped past 20 percent just once—but he went nuclear during this year's national title clash. He pumped in 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting en route to winning Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four.
Co-piloting Lakers bench units could force the college reserve to develop even more as a self-sufficient buckets-getter. But he'll have no trouble settling into an accessory role. His shot profile is a coach's dream.
Over 82 percent of his field-goal attempts as a redshirt sophomore came at the rim or from behind the rainbow, according to Hoop-Math. That screams "pump-and-drive" option, which would make him minimally disruptive alongside the Lakers' ball-dominant talent.
Selecting DiVincenzo at No. 25 could constitute a slight reach. His stock has enjoyed meteoric inflation from his national title detonation, and playing behind Brunson and Mikal Bridges off the bench safeguarded him against having to go toe-to-toe with lead guards for extended stretches.
But the Lakers don't need him to branch out right away—or at all. His defensive work is better suited for the second unit. He'll be able to stick with most second-string attack artists and, like Hart, have an easier time making his presence felt on the glass.
Jontay Porter, C, Missouri
Embrace the gamble.
League sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that Jontay Porter, brother of Michael Porter Jr., is "leaning toward returning to school for his sophomore season." This makes some sense. He doesn't turn 19 until Nov. 15 and has been criticized for below-board athleticism and his pick-and-roll defense.
Most mock drafts have Porter going anywhere from 18th overall to early in the second round. Another year of grooming at Missouri could guarantee Porter a spot in the 2019 lottery and earn him millions more over the life of his rookie contract.
But the Lakers have minutes to spare up front. Not one of their bigs is under guaranteed contract for next season. Short of bringing back both Brook Lopez and Julius Randle (restricted), they'll have the wiggle room to plumb the full depths of Porter's offensive arsenal—the very armory that makes him such a tantalizing boom-or-bust option.
"Jontay’s skill package is as good as it gets for a center, and he has hugely promising indicators in his defensive awareness and extreme youth. How his body matures over time will impact his NBA future in a big way, but he has too much skill and feel to not be a first-rounder if he declares. Could be anywhere from a solid change-of-pace stretch 5 to a strong two-way center if everything breaks right."
Porter will be a problematic fit at center to begin his career. He doesn't look entirely comfortable battling against burlier bodies. He would rather pop off screens than roll to the basket—and for good reason. He converted just 54.4 percent of his looks around the rim at Missouri, putting him in the 13th percentile among bigs, according to The Stepien.
The Lakers have the timeline to work with this kind of project. Improving his touch around the hoop and beefing him up enough to withstand straight-shot beelines is doable.
Besides, sweet-shooting towers are forever commodities. And Porter put down 36.4 percent of his triples while hoisting 5.4 attempts per 40 minutes. He won't clog up driving lanes for Ball, Ingram or Kuzma, and the Lakers can use him next to a non-shooter like Randle without worrying too much about torpedoing their floor balance.
Mitchell Robinson, C, USA
Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus poured cold water on a report from NBADraft.net's Aran Smith that suggested the Lakers have already promised to take Mitchell Robinson at No. 25. That doesn't mean they won't ultimately choose him.
The Lakers need a big who fits their high-octane style. They burned through more possessions per 48 minutes this past season than every team except the Suns and New Orleans Pelicans, and no offense spent more time finishing plays in transition.
Randle arms the Lakers with foot speed and handling as a small-ball 5, but he's neither a rim-runner nor a shooter. Lopez provides spacing, but he's more pick-and-pop weapon than roll man and shouldn't be playing within a system that runs at warp speed entering his 30s. And hey: Both bigs could leave as free agents over the summer.
Robinson would not step in and thrive from Day 1. Many don't even see him as NBA rotation-ready. Buzzwords like "raw," "inconsistent" and "project" are peppered throughout most of his scouting reports.
For now, Mitchell's impact is predicated on his physical tools. He gets rebounds because he's 7'1" with a 9'3" standing reach, not because he's exceptionally strong or adept at boxing out. He is an offensive threat when he runs the floor, secures putbacks and rolls toward the basket, not when he tries tapping into handles and post moves he doesn't have.
His shot blocking is more about length and opportunity than positioning or intuitive rotations. In time, he could be one of the best closeout swatters, but he may never turn into a sustainable half-court switcher.
Nothing written here, or anywhere else, should act as a deterrent for the Lakers. That includes his decision to skip college. Mitchell's physical tools alone could make him a viable rim-runner and paint protector even if he never reaches his idealized peak—which, for the record, could consist of semi-regular outside range.
That base skill set still carries cachet and is worth exploring, particularly for a Lakers team currently without it.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.