As this nightmare season winds down, there is likely going to be an 83% chance that the Lakers keep their top-5 protected pick this season since they currently hold the 4th worst record in the league. With Julius Randle and potentially Jordan Clarkson as the only major pieces the Lakers have to build around in the future, the Lakers should be focusing on grabbing the best player available that ALSO fits well with Randle.
The last part of that sentence is key. This “big board” isn’t going to simply be ranking the prospects from best to worst talent-wise, but will be taking into account both talent and fit.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns:
While I believe that Okafor is a better prospect than Towns in a vacuum, there’s no doubt in my mind that Towns is a nearly perfect fit for the Lakers.
The first reason is because of his defensive ability. Towns is the type of player you want to anchor your defense. He’s quick so he guard the pick-and-roll, and can cover ground and recover for mistakes made by perimeter defenders. His length (7’3.5″ wingspan) and leaping ability allows him to block, alter, or simply prevent shots at the rim. In his freshman year at Kentucky, Towns is averaging 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes, and has a block percentage of 12.5%. To compare, Jahlil Okafor is averaging just 1.8 blocks per 40 minutes and has a block percentage of 4.3%. Also keep in mind that Towns plays alongside Willie Cauley-Stein, so it’s possible that his block numbers would be even more ridiculous if he were the lone shot blocker on his team like Okafor is. Aside from simply just having better defensive tools, Towns’ effort level on defense is more consistent than Okafor’s too.
Offensively, Towns isn’t as polished in the post as Okafor, but he has shown flashes of a dominant post game too. And remember, he’s just 19 so there’s plenty of room to grow. One area where Towns is better than Okafor is shooting. Towns has shown the ability to hit long twos quite easily and even some off the dribble too. Towns creates more space for an offense and since Julius Randle’s strength is driving from the elbow, the extra space will just give him more room to operate. It also makes Towns a ridiculous threat off pick-and-rolls since he can roll to the basket and finish above the rim or can “pop” for a midrange jumper. I think a good comparison for Towns is a bigger Al Horford.
Towns is more of a threat on the glass than Okafor too. Towns’ rebounding percentage this year is 18.9%, while Okafor is at 17.4%. Okafor can get into a bad habit of not boxing out at times, although he can get away with it because of his size and length.
All in all though, if the Lakers plan to go with a center and Okafor and Towns are still on the board, I’d go with the latter. Towns is the more complete player.
2. D’Angelo Russell
Whether you consider Clarkson a starter for the Lakers going forward or not, D’Angelo Russell fits your plan. He has the size to guard both PG’s and SG’s and offensively can play off the ball (although I’d much rather have the ball in his hands).
Russell’s offensive game is pretty. The 6-5 PG makes everything look easy. Great spot-up shooter (he’s shooting 42% from behind the arc this year), and can comfortably hit shots off the dribble too. He’s also an incredible passer that’s able to thread the needle in the half court and in transition. His size also allows him to see over the defense and be a threat on the glass. He’s not exactly an elite athlete, but he’s certainly a good one.
Simply put, he’s the best guard in this draft and one could argue that he’s the best player in this draft. He can create and make shots, facilitate the offense, and grab rebounds. He’d be a great fit for the Lakers, or basically anyone for that matter.
3. Jahlil Okafor
As I mentioned earlier, he’s more polished than Towns offensively. Great scorer and passer out of the low post. His shooting range is a bit suspect though. He doesn’t have a consistent mid-range game yet, and hasn’t been able to showcase what he can do out of the pick-and-roll at Duke (that’s not really his fault though).
For most teams, Okafor would probably be the #1 prospect on the board, but for the Lakers it shouldn’t be the case. It would be tough for the Lakers to be a formidable defensive team if their front court consisted of Okafor and Randle since neither do great work on that end. Same reason why Greg Monroe, although he’s a very skilled player, wouldn’t be an ideal signing to pair with Randle either.
Okafor will be a walking double-double in the NBA and will probably have the biggest instant impact in the NBA. However, if the Lakers are looking to create their front court for the next decade, Towns is a better complement for Randle than Okafor is.
4. Emmanuel Mudiay
Mudiay is somewhat of an unknown commodity. Since he played overseas in China instead of college basketball, we don’t have much to go off when judging his game. What we do know is that he has great size for a point guard, he’s good in the pick-and-roll, he’s an acrobatic finisher, and his defensive ability is known to be a strong point of his. And while he can be turnover prone (like most young guards), he has nice passing ability and sees the floor well.
His biggest weakness is his jump shot and that he’s a good, but not great, athlete. He can hit threes, but his shot form isn’t exactly smooth, and it results in him being a inconsistent shooter.
From a Lakers standpoint, he would a nice fit going forward. Like Russell, Mudiay has the size to play both guard spots if you want to pair him with Clarkson. If not, you just start him at his natural position, point guard. This is basically a case of selecting the best player available.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein
Defensive monster. It really is unfair that Kentucky has he and Towns patrolling the paint. Cauley-Stein moves like a guard or forward out there. He covers so much ground and challenges so many shots. If you don’t have great perimeter defenders (which the Lakers certainly don’t), he can make up for their inability. He has length, elite quickness, great instincts, and incredible leaping ability. He has everything you want in a dominant rim-protecting defensive anchor. Because of that, he’s a great fit with Julius Randle and the Lakers.
WCS doesn’t have the offensive impact that Okafor and Towns can have, but he could function in a Tyson Chandler-like role. He can finish emphatically on pick-and-rolls and is a nightmare in transition since he can finish above the rim and easily outrun his match ups down the floor. Recently he has shown the ability to hit a 15-footer, and obviously if he can perfect that he’ll be able to expand his offensive role and also space the floor for his team. His post game is a work in progress and it just may never become good or great. But with a guy that has as much of a defensive impact as Cauley-Stein does, you’ll live with it.
6. Stanley Johnson
As an Arizona student and fan, I watch Stanley Johnson A LOT. He’s a 6-7/6-8 wing that can play the 2 and the 3.
Johnson would give the Lakers a much-needed elite perimeter defender. His strength and quickness allow him to matchup with almost any wing. Offensively, he can push the ball in transition and get into the paint at will. He shows nice touch on a floater and is an unselfish player. Stanley reminds me a bit of Andre Iguodala, but a better shooter and less of a leaper than Iggy. Don’t get me wrong, Stanley can get up, but he’s just not an elite leaper. Johnson would give the Lakers two quick, strong forwards that can push the ball in transition and create for others. Just like Randle, Stanley is an underrated passer. He sees the floor well and usually makes the right play. Johnson is a GREAT rebounder too. He’s relentless on the offensive glass and has great instincts on the defensive glass. He always seems to be in position to grab a rebound. Best part is he can grab a rebound and then take it coast-to-coast for a score. He’s a very crafty finisher in transition as he has mastered the euro-step.
Two areas of his game do concern me though. First, he struggles to finish at the rim at times. He can get into the paint whenever he wants, but he doesn’t go to the rim as strong as he could. He has nice touch on his floater, but he goes to it too often in my opinion. He should be using his strength to finish through contact at the rim instead.
Secondly, Stanley’s shooting ability is still a work in progress. He has shot well this year at Arizona as he’s made roughly 37% of his three point attempts, but he gets streaky at times and his shot is flat. He has proven to be able to shoot from mid-range and off-dribble though, especially out of the pick-and-roll.