We’ve just about reached the midpoint of the NBA season, and for teams in the Lakers’ position that means the focus will soon be turning toward the NBA Draft. This year’s draft is scheduled for June 23, and starting with that date, the Lakers will begin to officially build a roster that doesn’t include Kobe Bryant. For that reason alone it figures to be the most important draft in 20 years for the franchise, which means fans in LA should start paying attention to the college basketball season as it continues to unfold.
More and more these days with so many one-and-done players emerging from the college ranks, professional and college fans have shared interests. It’s reached the point at which the NCAA betting markets are focused largely on which teams are watching which players from a draft perspective, as college basketball increasingly resembles a pro showcase. This season, that showcase is being loudly dominated by LSU freshman Ben Simmons, who looks like one of the best NBA prospects since LeBron James.
At 6’10” and with the ability to quite literally play every position on the floor, Simmons is a can’t-miss future star. Barring a disastrous injury, it’s an absolute certainty that he’ll be the first pick come June. The Lakers are likely going to have a chance of landing that pick, but because there’s really nothing to discuss at number one, let’s take a look at some of the players the team could select if they don’t land Simmons. The Lakers do owe their first round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers if it falls outside the top three, but placement in that range is probable at this point. So here are some of the options.
The 6’9” Duke freshman has established himself as the top prospect beyond Simmons, and currently occupies the number two spot on Chad Ford’s Big Board at ESPN. He’s a far cry from the can’t-miss total talent of Simmons, but his upside has a lot of NBA fans drooling. With a wingspan and overall length that reminds many of Kevin Durant, Ingram has proven to be a versatile scorer at Duke. He’s a sharpshooter from the outside with capable slashing ability. His long arms create problems for defenders and he’s been a better shot blocker than expected, too. Ingram has plenty of limitations, though. He’s only 190 pounds, he’s shown a tendency to get into foul trouble, and he’s prone to offensive lulls despite his immense scoring talent. He’d be a pretty sensible pick for the Lakers, however, filling a position of need (he’s likely a 3 in the NBA) and bringing
the upside Lakers fans are dying to cash in on.
The Cal freshman is primarily playing shooting guard this season, though he’s actually most interesting as a potential small ball guard/forward for the Lakers. At roughly 6’7” with good strength and exceptional athleticism, Brown will be a versatile player at the next level. Given the NBA’s trend toward small ball, the Lakers could be intrigued by the idea of a young starting lineup including Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Brown. Those three could certainly produce some fun stretches of offense to interest the fans, though to really be useful in such a lineup Brown would need to improve as a long-range shooter.
Kris Dunn & Buddy Hield
I’m putting these two together not because they’re particularly similar players, but because they’d serve a similar purpose for the Lakers. Dunn is the point guard at Providence, whereas Hield is a shooting guard and a legitimate national player of the year candidate at Oklahoma. Both are seniors, and both are among the most polished and impactful players on this draft board. There’s an argument to be made that if you gave these two a few months of pro experience, they might make for a better NBA backcourt than Clarkson and Russell do right now. So, while neither serves a glaring need, either would give the Lakers some versatility on the trading market. Drafting one of these two would make Russell and/or Clarkson an available trade chip, which could help with the Lakers’ long-term rebuild.
As mentioned, the NBA is trending toward small ball, but the Lakers have had great centers on their best teams. While Poeltl is no Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, or Gasol, he’s the best center in this draft. He’s a rock solid, reliable interior presence that could help to build a very strong young frontcourt alongside the more dynamic Julius Randle.
Finally there’s Henry Ellenson, the Marquette freshman who’s been compared to Kevin Love by Chad Ford and many others. He hasn’t been quite the three-point threat many expected in college so far, but he’s a strong shooter who looks like a potential hidden star in the 2016 draft. He’s got the size, the passing ability, and the basketball I.Q. to make a pretty quick impact, though for the Lakers he’s a tricky fit alongside Randle. As with the senior guards, however, he could provide depth that would result in a favorable trade.
Much can still change between now and draft time, but these are the players Lakers fans should be paying attention. Well, these and Ben Simmons.