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Golden State’s win over Cleveland in the NBA Finals not only sent a message of just how dominant the Warriors are and will be but signaled a new era of NBA basketball.
The era of positionless, small-ball basketball is upon the NBA and is no longer the future of the league, but the present.
For long stretches of the contest, the “centers” on the court for the Cavs and Warriors were LeBron James and Kevin Durant, respectively. Lineups featured four guards and a forward with everyone capable of knocking down threes and defending perimeter players.
Players like Tristan Thompson and Zaza Pachulia, partially through play of their own, were unable to stay on the court as the game sped up.
How does this relate to the Lakers? Well, Los Angeles is facing a major decision, possibly for the last time, of which top prospect to add to their team. With a fresh coach in Luke Walton looking to implement a system mirroring that of Golden State, the Lakers are at an interesting crossroads.
With just over a week before the draft, the two prospects that the Lakers appear to be locking in on are Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson. One player signals a backcourt of the future while the other signals an attempt to match the NBA moving forward.
With LA and Walton looking to play like the Warriors, which player moves the team and the roster closer to that of Golden State’s?
On one hand, you have Ball, a point guard of the future. Ball is unlike most point guard prospects. He’s a low-usage, high efficiency, long-range-bombing guard. His basketball IQ is off the charts and so is his passing acumen.
If the Lakers are looking to adopt an up-tempo style, a style that is predicated on three-pointers and ball movement and a style that is built around a pair of guards who can score from anywhere, then Ball is the guy.
If you’re looking to compare Ball to Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, you won’t find what you’re looking for. Ball is some type of combo of both. He hit 41.2 percent of his threes in his lone year at UCLA. His true shooting percentage of 67.3 percent and his three-point attempt rate of 56.6 percent are both video-game numbers.
However, as the lead guard, his usage percentage of 18.4 percent was dwarfed by his assist percentage of 31.4 percent, two numbers that seemingly don’t make sense. His offensive rating of 131.7 was equally ridiculous.
But the transformation UCLA underwent with Ball go beyond any numbers. A program that was under .500 turned into a national title contender with Ball. His play style became infectious. The Bruins embraced ball movement. Passing was fun because they knew Ball would find them if they were open.
Take that player and plug him into the Lakers backcourt and on a team that is looking to embrace ball movement and you couldn’t find a more perfect fit. Ball, paired with D’Angelo Russell, would move the Lakers in a direction something closer to that of the Splash Bros in Oakland. And while you will never be able to replicate what Curry and Thompson can do, this would be a step in that direction, a step into the era of three-pointers and ball movement.
On the other hand, though, you have Josh Jackson. For Kansas this season, Jackson’s per-40 minute stats were gaudy: 21.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.4 blocks. Jackson is a do-it-all wing player who is a fiery leader.
Unlike Ball, Jackson is more of a ball-dominant guy, finishing the year with a 27.2 usage percentage, but a respectable assist percentage of 18.2 percent. While he shot 37.8 percent, rightful concerns of his shooting stroke exist, but the percentage is there to show that he can knock down threes.
Maybe most impressively, and most importantly for the Lakers, are the defensive numbers from Jackson. While the stat is flawed, Jackson’s defensive rating last season was 96.0, the best mark of rotation players for Kansas last season.
For the Lakers, Jackson would represent an attempt to mirror the perimeter of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala. The comparisons between Durant and Ingram have already existed, even if they are premature and unfair to Ingram.
However, the comparisons between Jackson and Iguodala aren’t quite as unfair and are a bit more accurate. Using the draft prospect comparison sheet put together by Cranjis McBasketball on Twitter, you can take a look at how often Jackson ran certain actions in comparison to Iguodala.
Jackson did a bit more creating of the offense whether it was running pick and rolls or posting up, but the two sides had similar play styles.
Iguodala scores on cuts a bit more and is certainly more of a spot-up shooter. But Jackson also wasn’t playing in a system designed to do what Golden State’s system does. With the Lakers, it’s likely those post-ups drop as well as the actions with Jackson as the roll man in a pick-and-roll and the spot ups increase.
Schematically, Jackson would further the shift to positionless basketball. Even Jackson himself noted after his workout on Tuesday how different the Cavs and Warriors’ series was and how dominant Ingram and he could be.
Jackson saw a good amount of time at the four in college while Ingram played the four in the NBA. Putting them together in the NBA and you have a pair of players that can play anywhere from the two-guard to the four and, maybe down the line, even as a “center” in small ball lineups. And both players can handle the ball well enough to initiate the offense. The versatility of both can prove to be vital.
In an era where 3 & D wings are at a premium, nabbing Ingram and Jackson in back-to-back drafts puts the Lakers ahead of the game. We saw Durant and Iguodala offer as much on the defensive end as they did offensively. Iguodala made yet another key defensive play late in game three while Durant’s rim-protecting and general defensive ability changed how the Warriors were able to play.
So which person takes the Lakers closer to the Warriors and their style of play? Is it the guard who would come in and further the Lakers’ culture change schematically? Or is it the forward who could come in and form a formidable duo and help the Lakers embrace positionless basketball?