If you watched the phenomenal Lakers vs. Celtics 30 for 30 it won’t surprise you that these 2 teams have lucked into the top 2 draft slots. Since the Lakers moved to LA in 1960, they have experienced extremely few noncompetitive seasons. Over the past few years in LA, finally the Lakers haters have had reasons to rejoice as they endured their worst streak in franchise history and doubled down with horrible free agent signings. What up Timofey!
Even in this midst of incompetence that would destroy most other franchises, the Lakers have somehow rolled snake eyes yet again. Over the last 3 seasons the Lakers needed to pick within the top 3 each year or else they’d be forced to give the pick to the Sixers (from the Steve Nash trade!!). Moreover, if the Lakers had to surrender that pick to the Sixers they also would’ve had to send their 2018 1st rounder to the Magic (from the Dwight Howard trade!!).
Instead the lottery balls bounced the Lakers way, they’re going to pick 2nd overall for 3 consecutive years and that 1st rounder owed to Orlando turns into 2 future 2nds. For comparisons sake the Knicks have been an absolute tire fire since the turn of the millennium and have only once picked in the top 5 (4th overall in 2015). And even though they have to send their 1st rounder to the Sixers next year no matter what, LA has accumulated a ton of young talent which could entice a superstar to sign in Hollywood and give them the trade assets necessary to attain another.
So, who will the Lakers draft at #2 to pair with Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.?
Most mock drafts have the Lakers taking Ball at #2. The UCLA product took an also-ran 15-17 team and turned them into the most prolific offense in the country. Ball has a sixth sense to find the open man and is one of the most gifted passers to come out of the college ranks in quite some time. With Magic Johnson installed as new team president you can be sure he had flashbacks of his Showtime Lakers as he watched Lonzo run with the Bruins.
Because of this elite passing ability Lonzo elevates the players around him. He knows his teammates strengths and gets them the ball in their sweet spots to make the offense hum. While he should probably be viewed as the 3rd best player on a team, which makes the 2nd overall pick a little high for him, his ability to make star players even better cannot be overlooked.
On the downside Lonzo is a very polarizing prospect. He was a great 3 point shooter in college at 41.7% (with unlimited range), but his unusual shooting form may not allow him the time to get up his shots at the next level. Lonzo doesn’t have great lateral quickness and he’s going to struggle to keep Point Guards in front of him on D. He gets flummoxed on offense by elite athletes, especially when that athlete is unafraid to apply pressure (see Fox, De’Aaron). Finally, while Lonzo is a brilliant creator for his teammates he sometimes struggles to create his own shot off the dribble.
Plus, if the Lakers draft Lonzo there is the question of how he will fit with D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. Will they have to trade D’Angelo? Will they want to?
And ALL of those considerations don’t even touch the black cloud of LaVar Ball hanging over Lonzo’s head. Most executives are saying that LaVar won’t have any consideration on their analysis of Lonzo, but as the clock winds down on draft night you can be sure the bombastic father will be in the back of GM’s minds.
So, maybe the Lakers don’t take the hometown kid. What other top prospects make sense for LA?
I’ve gone back and forth at the top of my personal big board with Markelle Fultz & Josh Jackson. Jackson starred at Kansas last year, helping the Jayhawks become a juggernaut on both sides of the ball. He arrived in Lawrence ready made as an elite defender; both as an on ball stopper and a phenomenal help side human eraser.
The most encouraging aspect of Jackson’s game though was how clearly he improved game to game. As the season progressed Josh’s offensive skills continued to develop to the point where it was hard to pinpoint a weakness in his game. Where he first struggled to beat his defender off the dribble, he was making moves like this in the NCAA Tournament:
His outside shot was very questionable at the start of the year to the point it was hurting his draft stock. But as with his off the dribble offense he continued to improve this facet of his game and by March was taking step back 3s with supreme confidence:
Jackson also possesses a burgeoning low post game and can finish in traffic with the best of them. While you may hear that Jackson is one of the best defenders in the draft but may leave you wanting more on the offensive end, don’t believe it for a second (although he is a miserable free throw shooter). Jackson is the most complete 2-way player in the draft.
At 6’8″ with a 7’0″ wingspan Jackson would step in and immediately improve the Lakers defense. Some may question pairing him with a similar player in Brandon Ingram, but in today’s NBA versatile forwards make a team more dynamic and flexible to guard differing lineups. Pairing Ingram & Jackson would give LA their front court of the future with the added benefit of moving Julius Randle to a super sub role or a key trade asset.
Where Josh Jackson may come in and immediately contribute on the defensive end, Jayson Tatum will do the same for the offense. Tatum may be as ready as an offensive prospect since Carmelo Anthony, which is exactly who’s game he reminds me of.
Tatum is comfortable creating off the dribble, finishing in traffic, and finishing through contact. He’s a great spot up shooter, can shoot off the dribble, and shoot with defenders draped all over him. He has a great fadeaway from the low block and once the defender is expecting the fadeaway he’ll just as quickly spin around them for an easy layup. Tatum loves grabbing a rebound and immediately starting the fast break himself with a knack for protecting the ball in the open court. Finally what impressed me most about Tatum was his desire to take over down the stretch of games and would often score 10 or more straight points by himself.
On that same note though Tatum disappeared at times when Duke needed him to produce, especially in the season ending loss to South Carolina. While he’s an elite offensive prospect, Tatum isn’t a great defender and his foot speed may be an issue in the NBA. What’s worse, he may never possess the desire to become a great defender.
The Lakers have a tough choice here but I believe they should buck public opinion and draft Josh Jackson at #2. While Lonzo Ball’s style of play is sure to be a crowd pleaser, I still have faith in D’Angelo Russell. Tatum doesn’t give enough on the defensive end to justify drafting him over Jackson.
LA also has the 28th pick in the first round, which we’ll analyze further in a post of late first round prospects.