The Los Angeles Lakers are in a bit of a quandary. At the moment, the team owes a first round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers (via the Phoenix Suns from the 2012 Steve Nash trade), the selection that would’ve transferred last year had it fallen outside the top-5. The Lakers keep the pick in 2016 if it lands in the top-3. We would keep the pick in 2017 only if it lands inside the top-3 again . Finally, the pick would transfer unprotected in 2018.
However, I say stop worrying about the pick. I’ve advocated before that the Lakers try and build through the draft, like they’ve always done, and they should continue to leverage the draft to their advantage. But worrying about the pick over the development of the Lakers young core is erroneously farsighted. It’s actually one of the few times I’d preach some shortsightedness for the Lakers.
The Lakers currently have three great pieces. One of them is a top-2 overall pick (D’Angelo Russell). The other was a top-7 pick (Julius Randle). The last guy, and arguably the best player on the Lakers currently, was First Team All-Rookie last year (Jordan Clarkson). The Lakers have a young core already going forward (and this doesn’t even include other promising pieces like Larry Nance, Jr., Anthony Brown, and Tarik Black). Having essentially three lottery picks in the span of two years already in hand will soften the blow of potentially losing the pick in 2016.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Keeping the pick would be great (especially since it’ll be a top-3 pick, which I’ll get to in a bit). It’ll speed up the rebuilding process and add another great piece. But this should not come at the expense of the current young players’ development. Last year I started driving the tank before the season even started, and was a heavy proponent of #TeamTank15 (the predecessor of Lakers Outsiders) throughout the season. I hated when Lakers got a win, since the wins usually came off the backs of veterans that we’re not part of the Lakers long term plans. And we knew each win increased the odds of losing that pick – something that would set back our rebuild even further.
But we kept it, so the attention now turns to 2016. And while I am a draft aficionado, focusing too much on guys not currently on the team is a mistake. Losing the pick will hurt, especially if it’s number 4 overall (and to a lesser degree, number 5), but stunting the development of our current core is worse. It’s like taking two steps forward and one step back. We don’t want that. We want as little step-backs as possible (unless they come in the form of a jump shot).
But here’s the key thing about the draft pick. Lakers only keep it if the pick falls inside the top-3. The 2016 draft is shaping up to be a weak one. The top prospects are nice, but not game-changers like LeBron, Wall, Davis, or Towns.
Right now, the top prospects include SF/PF Ben Simmons and and SF Brandon Ingram. The next tier of guys that the Lakers would consider (so no guards here) would include PF/C Skal Labissiere, SF/PF/C Dragan Bender, SG/SF Jaylen Brown, and C Jakob Poeltl.
Personally, I think Simmons & Ingram are a tier above everybody else, with my preference for Ingram at the moment. Simmons is going to be a hell of a player, but his fit in LA is awkward as long as he refuses to shoot. And Ingram has really stepped it up as of late. He does a bit of everything well and wouldn’t cause any fit concerns.
International prospect Bender is the wildcard here. He could very well be the clear cut number one by the draft (depending on play/development), or very well could be even out of this draft (if he decides to not enter).
So we’re talking about some solid prospects at the top of this draft followed by 4 shaky pieces after that. While most drafts do produce solid players, nobody is looking like a world beater in this class at this moment (of course, things can change).
Now contrast that to the 2017 class, which is being praised as one of the potentially deeper classes we’ve seen in awhile. Prospects like C/PF Harry Giles, SG/SF Jayson Tatum, & SG/SF Josh Jackson headline this class, with many other juicy prospects below them. I’m not going to do a whole breakdown here, but the consensus around draft heads is that 2017 is going to be a deeper and more star-studded class. So essentially a ~top-12 pick in 2017 is akin to a ~top-5 pick in 2016.
So if we lose this the pick this year, say at #5, we’re probably going to end up with a lottery pick again in 2017 (And this isn’t me advocating tanking again. I’m just being realistic here. We’re probably still going to be bad, even with a nice free-agent addition in 2016). That’s fine. Picking at #10 in 2017 would be like getting a #5 pick in 2016. In fact, spacing out the rookie contracts is probably a good thing (since you don’t want the extensions to pile up on one another) when it comes to cap management down the road.
So to conclude, keep the pick in 2016? Great. We get to add a solid player since it will be a top-3 pick. Lose the pick in 2016 (and thus we keep the 2017 pick unconditionally)? That’s fine too given the depth of that draft class.
So stop worrying about the pick*. Worry about Russell, Randle, and Clarkson getting reps, plays called for them, and having a system that takes advantage of their skills and minimized their weaknesses. And lastly, since this is entertainment, enjoy the rare nights -like the game against Sacramento– that all those come to fruition.
(*Look, I still am psuedo-rooting for a tank year. I want the Lakers to take advantage of contending teams as they look to trade away some of the more expendable veteran pieces like Williams, Bass, and Young. But I’m not worrying about the pick at all as long as the wins come on the backs of our young guys and not Lou Williams/Nick Young going for 40 or Kobe Bryant being pushed to the brink.)