I’m going to describe a team, and I want you to guess which franchise it is.
This team drafted a point guard who many said lacked the athleticism to be an elite player, but had a good three-point shot and passing vision. They also drafted an athletic power forward who could handle the ball but lacked a serious jump shot, and in a draft redo would probably have gone higher. This same franchise drafted a shooting guard who has developed further than most had hoped and has out-performed his draft position. And to top off their rebuild they drafted an athletic small forward who has the potential to be a threat near the basket and around the perimeter, while being a disruptor on defense.
Despite all of this they underachieved due to having an old school coach who didn’t get along with the players (especially rookies), and had them run an out-of-date offense. Luckily, this very same team fired said coach and signed a rookie coach who was on the rise and ran an offense based on some triangle schemes, plenty of motion, and three-point shooting.
Now what team do you think I was describing?
Many would assume the Lakers. Some would think of the Warriors.
The correct answer is both.
The players I described were Stephen Curry and D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Draymond Green, Jordan Clarkson and Klay Thompson, and lastly Brandon Ingram and Harrison Barnes.
I was describing the rebuilding efforts of both the Warriors and the potential rebuild of the Lakers if they do indeed draft Ingram on June 23rd as many now expect. Both of these teams had eerily similar rebuilds despite having two different game plans, with Golden State focused heavily on analytics while Los Angeles focused more on an old-school style of scouting.
Obviously the Lakers’ core won’t be exactly like the Warriors’ core. Randle won’t be Draymond, D’Angelo isn’t Curry, and Clarkson is extremely inferior to Klay, while Ingram projects to be far superior to Barnes. All kidding aside from the jokes I make on Twitter, I do believe Steve Kerr and Luke Walton will be equals as coaches.
All of this points to an interesting comparison. Both teams focused on shot-heavy guards and wings, and physical, athletic power forwards and centers. The Lakers don’t have a center like the Warriors do, but will most likely sign a free agent or trade for one in a similar trade to the one that sent Andrew Bogut to the Warriors.
But what surprised many is the speed at which both teams rebuilt. The Warriors only took three or so years before contending (having Steph mature 3 years helps the time frame) and the Lakers will most likely start to contend for a playoff spot in the 2017-18 season. But to get as far as the Warriors and Lakers have in a rebuilding process in so little time requires you have to get lucky once or twice.
The Warriors got lucky when they drafted Thompson at No. 11 in 2011, and when they landed Green in the second round of the 2012 draft. So did the Lakers in 2014 when they drafted Randle at seven, and Clarkson in the second round. All four players would go a lot higher in a draft redo, but the Lakers and Warriors can’t act like they knew Green and Clarkson would be steals. They most likely thought they were making good picks but they did not expect these players to exceed their value by as much as they have.
The Warriors got extremely lucky in drafting Curry at seventh overall in the 2009 draft. People thought he could be good but many scouts and writers said he lacked the athleticism to be an elite player. He made up for not having the elite athleticism that is expected from lottery pick point guards by having a good handle, and being able to create shots for himself and others.
My watered down description of Curry resembles last years second overall pick. The Lakers also got very lucky last year going from the fourth pick to the second pick, allowing them to draft Russell, who many believed to be the player with the most potential in that draft.
While most no longer hold that same sentiment with Karl-Anthony Towns looking like a generational player in his rookie season, many Lakers fans, writers, and scouts still believe Russell can be a future superstar for the Lakers. He has great size, a good shot, and elite passing vision that will help the Lakers in a way similar to how Curry helps the Warriors.
But to me the Lakers’ biggest stroke of luck was keeping their top-3 protected pick and staying at the second spot for the upcoming draft. Had they dropped past the third pick they would have lost it and been left with only the No. 32 pick. Now they have a chance at Ingram or Ben Simmons, who many believe to be potential superstars if developed correctly.
The final part of each team’s rebuild was to fire their out-of-date coaches to modernize their offense. When the Warriors fired Mark Jackson they quickly signed Steve Kerr, an inexperienced rookie coach who won four championships with the Chicago Bulls in their dominant run in the 90’s. He brought an altered version of the triangle offense that he played under with Phil Jackson as head coach and modernized it by adding an emphasis on three-point shooting and lots of motion.
The Lakers also got rid of their out-of-date coach and hired Luke Walton, who has won two championships as a player. He has been a disciple of both Jackson and Kerr for a couple of years and many believe him to be a true student of the game with a high basketball IQ who had to rely on his smarts rather than athleticism as a player. He plans to bring an offense very similar to Golden State’s to the Lakers this upcoming season.
Throughout the years, writers and fans alike used to call Golden State the Lakers’ little brother, but now it’s almost the opposite. The Lakers are going to be running almost the same offense, and while I don’t know if Russell, Randle, and Ingram can match the talent levels of Curry, Green, and Thompson, they may not need to. Even though the Warriors have star power, they don’t always rely on it. Their offense and team resembles a machine. Each player is a cog and they play their part. This means that even if the Lakers don’t reach the talent level that Golden State has, they can still succeed and contend for championships in the future under Walton’s offense and style of play.
They most likely won’t reach the level of success that Golden State has reached, but with a good center added in free agency or the draft, and some key bench players, the Lakers can improve a lot next season. Eventually, after a year or two of player development, they can be playoff contenders again and the rebuild will be done. Call it luck, skill, or plain coincidence but the Lakers are copying the best team to ever play, and they aren’t doing a bad job at it.