By: Pete Zayas
The Lakers defied the odds on Tuesday night, retaining the 2nd pick in the 2017 NBA Draft while managing to retain their 2019 1st Round pick in the process. These are the ramifications of tonight’s lottery.
A Paul George Trade Just Became A Lot More Likely
Despite the fondness that many Lakers have for Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell, the #2 pick likely represents the most desirable asset that the Lakers possess. In the case of the Indiana Pacers, a shot at the player of their choice in a draft class where many pundits believe that the 2nd-6th picks are tightly clustered together should have a great deal of appeal, and having that player on a 4-year rookie contract amidst a rebuild is attractive as well. Ingram will be eligible for his second contract one year sooner than the #2 pick will, with Russell being up for that deal two years prior. These financial considerations are important to a team that is effectively hitting the reset button in the wake of George’s departure.
The Lakers may not be as willing to part with the pick. On one hand, as Laker fans have learned over the last few seasons, 19-20 year-olds aren’t terribly good at basketball, regardless of their long-term potential. It’s reasonable to suggest that Russell in his 3rd season or Ingram in his 2nd would be more effective sidekicks for Paul George in the short term. Yet the #2 pick also represents Magic Johnson & Rob Pelinka’s first attempt to add “their guy” to the young core. It’s likely that they are less invested in the players who were drafted by a previous regime, and the ability to trade one (or more) of them for Paul George while still drafting the player of their choosing could have significant pull in the minds of the decision makers.
Regardless of the approach that the Lakers take toward negotiations for George, they now have more routes to get there, and the retention of the pick likely represents the most appealing asset to the Pacers.
Who Should the Lakers Take If They Don’t Trade It?
I’m of the mind that trading Ingram, Russell, or #2 in exchange for George, with one year remaining on his contract, would be a mistake, so this is the route that I’d prefer. In a broad sense, I view this draft as having a clear #1 (Markelle Fultz), several prospects who are fairly closely bunched together (Josh Jackson, Malik Monk , Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith, Jr), and a wild card who has a high ceiling but also a relatively low floor. (Lonzo Ball).
Kevin Ding reported that the Lakers have particular interest in Fultz, Ball, Jackson, & De’Aaron Fox, who I don’t quite regard at the same level as the others, but does have excellent athletic gifts.
My Top 5 Prospects. 5/16/17
2) Lonzo Ball
3) Josh Jackson
4) Malik Monk
5) Dennis Smith, Jr.
I view Markelle Fultz as the best guard prospect since Kyrie Irving in the 2011 Draft, with apologies to Damian Lillard, who few people thought was going to be as good as he’s become. Fultz is one of the most productive pick & roll guards in the last decade in the NCAA, utilizing tremendous balance, solid athleticism, court vision, and a well-developed skill set to thrive in the NBA’s most common play.
I don’t worry about Washington’s atrocious record during his time there, as they were one of the most poorly coached teams I’ve ever seen at a high level, and there’s nothing that Fultz could have done to remedy their issues.
I do think that he will struggle at first as a catch & shoot player, due to a very slow gather, but that’s a relatively easy fix. Fultz has all-star potential, but also a very high floor, due to a highly developed skill set. He’s one of the safest picks in years.
I find myself conflicted on Lonzo Ball. I understand the skepticism on him, whether it’s his ability to create on pick & rolls, questions about his ball-handling ability, and even the absurdities that come from his father. Yet I can’t help but wonder if he is squeezing the untapped potential out of already established ideas. He barely dribbles the ball relative to other lead guards. He’d rather shoot an open 30-footer than a 25-footer that’s slightly contested. He’s an excellent screener and cutter. How he plays is statistically supported, but extremely unusual.
Will it translate? I don’t know.
He was surrounded by shooters at UCLA, and shared the ball-handling responsibilities with a pair of very good college guards in Bryce Alford & Aaron Holiday. How would Lonzo look playing alongside sub-30% three point shooters like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, & Timofey Mozgov?
Can he still find a way to be extraordinarily effective, does it all fall apart, or somewhere in between? I would bet on him being able to make it translate eventually… although I predict a rough rookie year for him… but the worst case scenario with him is concerning.
I think that he’ll eventually put it together, but will struggle initially in the NBA. I also think he’s a SG rather than a PG, as noted in my offensive scouting report.
I regard Monk and Smith. Jr. higher than most and think they should at least be in the conversation for the 3rd pick. Monk is an elite scorer coming off of screens and in transition while showing a flicker of playmaking ability in the pick & roll.
Smith, Jr. is an athletic lead guard with potential as a 3-level scorer. Yet neither is a particularly good defender, which is where Josh Jackson excels.
Josh Jackson is a tantalizing mix of athleticism, intelligence, and motor. I question his ability to grow into a Top 2 scoring option on a team due to his questionable shooting, triple threat, and pick & roll abilities, but his defense, passing, and transition play are some of the most bankable attributes that anyone in the draft possesses. He has a high floor as a result, while still maintaining considerable upside, which is why I think he should be the 3rd pick, and you could make an argument for him at #2 as well.
I have concerns with De’Aaron Fox’s skill set, despite his excellent athleticism. He isn’t a particularly good shooter, and I don’t think his shot form is conducive to a longer 3-p=oint line. I believe that in order to succeed at the NBA level without a reliable jumper, a PG needs to have great court vision, along the lines of a John Wall or Russell Westbrook, and I don’t see that or elite ball-handling from Fox. He’s a solid defender, but I don’t think it’s enough of a difference maker to bridge the gap on the offensive end. Many fans point to his 39 point performance against UCLA in the NCAA tournament, but that was often the result of blown pick & roll coverages that rarely ever happen in the NBA.
Jayson Tatum is normally the type of player that I like quite a bit, as he’s one of the most skilled players in the draft, but I find his strengths to be a bit outdated. He can create his own shot in isolation situations and is competent in a variety of other Play Types, but I question his ability to fit in with a system that’s heavily dependent upon ball and player movement. This, along with a propensity to give in too easily on the defensive end sours me a bit on him, although I do think he’ll have a long career and will be one of the better individual scorers in the draft.
Jonathan Isaac is another name that’s brought up with some regularity, but I don’t think he belongs in the conversation for the #3 pick. While he’s one of the better defensive prospects in the draft, he provides very little in the way of shot creation, and I think he mostly projects as a 3 & D prospect along the lines of an Al-Farouq Aminu.
Lauri Markaanen probably has the clearest strengths and weaknesses in the draft. Strictly from an outside shooting perspective, he may be the best big man prospect in NBA history. He projects as a devastating pick & pop big, but as much as I’m dying for that kind of player within the Lakers offense, his deficiencies on the boards and defensively…both as a rim protector and on the perimeter…are too much to overcome, and I don’t think he belongs in the conversation at #3.
Regardless of whether they keep the pick or trade it, the rebuild has probably been accelerated by a year.
There’s no motivation to tank next season, due to the fact that Philadelphia owns their 2018 pick no matter what, so the Lakers will be motivated to be as good as they can possibly be, which is a refreshing change from the last few seasons.
Today was the last day that we have to worry about keeping the pick, after 3 seasons of uncertainty. What a relief.
Check out Cranjis McBasketball’s Twitter thread on D’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith, Jr.
Thread: Comparison of PGs Dennis Smith Jr (NC State) & De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky)
— Cranjis McBasketball (@T1m_NBA) March 23, 2017