Amidst all of the turmoil with the Lakers in recent seasons, one of the mainstays for the organization has been the scouting department, specifically with regards to the NBA Draft.
Last season, the Lakers found diamonds in the rough with Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, nabbing both late in the first round. In years prior, players like Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac were drafted either late in the first or in the second round and have produced at higher-than-expected levels.
The success of the scouting department has led to an exciting young core of players and could eventually lead to the Lakers landing a max free agent like LeBron James or Paul George this summer.
However, the Lakers don’t appear to be investing everything into landing James or George this summer as they reportedly are looking to move up in the upcoming NBA Draft. Currently, the Lakers hold the 25th pick in the first round and the 47th pick, a second rounder.
On The Ringer NBA Show, Kevin O’Connor reported on what he’s hearing from the Lakers.
I’ve heard that the Lakers are looking to either add a pick in the middle of the first round or trade up from the 25th pick into the middle of the first round to draft a player that they’re targeting. Zhaire Smith is the name that I’ve heard that they’re very high on.
First, the Lakers would obviously need to attach an asset to the 25th pick to move up. It’s safe to assume that the core of the young players is untouchable to simply move up into the middle of the first round, ruling out the likes of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma.
Outside of that, the Lakers could look to attach a player like Ivica Zubac or Thomas Bryant, both more outliers of the young core, to move up.
The team doesn’t have much in the terms of draft capital to work with either. Outside of the two picks this season, neither of which are actually the Lakers’ own picks, Los Angeles owns the Chicago Bulls’ 2019 second round draft pick. Considering the state of the Bulls, that pick could have some value as it will likely be a high second round pick. Whether that’s enough for the Lakers to move up 10-15 picks this season, though, is unknown, but unlikely.
It’s interesting, though, to see the Lakers still reportedly focused on building through the draft and adding more wing players to the young core. Zhaire Smith is a hyper-athletic wing from Texas Tech that is expected to go in the lottery. You need only look at this play from the NCAA Tournament to get an idea of the type of player he’d be.
Smith obviously was a high-percentage finisher at the rim, knocked down 44.7 percent of his threes, was measured at 6’4″ at the combine and has a wingspan of nearly 6’10”.
With the league transitioning to small ball, shooting and athleticism, it’s obvious why Smith would be targeted by the Lakers. Even if the Lakers do land George and/or James, Smith is the type of player that would succeed next to a superstar.
Whether this all ends in a deal for the Lakers remains to be seen but the reasoning and optics around it are interesting.