2018 NBA Draft: Lakers draft strategy and Zhaire Smith’s fit

With the 2018 NBA Draft quickly closing in, our staff has worked to bring you as much coverage as possible on the potential prospects the Lakers may look at. However, with a seemingly endless list of potential draftees and rumors popping up daily, there are still many questions left unanswered.

To help try to bring some clarity to the draft, our own Jacob Rude and draft contributor Mike Garcia discussed what strategy the Lakers should take with the draft, the rumors surrounding Zhaire Smith and his fit and some lesser-known prospects the Lakers could target in a series of conversations that will be posted as we near the NBA Draft.

Jacob Rude: The Lakers have made it pretty clear in recent years that they draft talent first and figure out the fit later, a stance I know both of us hold. With that being said, what would your stance be heading into the draft and what do you think the Lakers most need from a prospect? Do they need another guard to take the pressure to create off Lonzo Ball? More wing depth so there’s less Kyle Kuzma at small forward minutes? Should they draft with the idea of landing Paul George or LeBron James?

Mike Garcia: The most difficult part about the draft is trying to find the most successful NBA player that would work best within the team’s culture. In the end, every team would benefit if they added another All-Star, starter, or bench player, regardless of position.

With that in mind, it would be optimal for them to draft a guy that hopefully brings at least one NBA level skill on both ends of the floor, whether it’s an initiator, a wing or a big. It’s critical that the player can thrive within the Laker culture and develop their game individually. Adapting to the team, with or without James or George, shouldn’t be a problem. The newly drafted players are adapting to the entire team anyway.

Fortunately, the Lakers have found two players that have been able to do big-man type things, whether it’s Josh Hart with rebounding and switchability onto bigs defensively or Lonzo Ball with rebounding and surprising rim protection. Ideally, through the draft, the pick would be used on a talented wing player, preferably with shooting as their best skill while providing some versatility on offense.

JR: I would agree that a talented wing player with shooting would be the ideal pick for the Lakers with possibly some ball-handling skills. And on that note, Wednesday it was reported that the Lakers have an eye on Zhaire Smith. Most probably remember Smith for his dunks but how would he fit with the Lakers and is he worth trading up for?

MG: Smith is a very unique prospect, in that, he’s an elite level athlete, has the size of a shooting guard, but does big-man type things. On one hand, he shot 45 percent behind the arc, but on roughly just one attempt per game. On the other hand, he excels as an off-ball player, where he score efficiently off of cuts, spot up shooting, transition play, and offensive rebounding to generate offense. He hits the offensive glass similar to a center at a near 10 percent rate while providing a very high steal and block rate.

It sounds like another guard that’s able to provide rebounding and rim-protection. There seems to be a common theme here. A player like Smith would thrive off of Ball’s passing, or Brandon Ingram’s drive-and-kick game. It wouldn’t be surprising for the Lakers to be interested in a player like that, especially worth trading up for.

JR: Smith is not someone I had on my radar but someone I was aware of. To see the Lakers linked to him is incredibly exciting. As you said, his off-ball movement and rebounding ability means he can fit into any offense with any set of players, superstars or not. Because of that, it’s not surprising to see them linked to him. Currently, he’s slated to likely be a late lottery pick. How much would you be willing to trade in order to move up and take Smith?

MG: I love the young talent of the current team so it would take a lot for me to even consider a trade. By far, this has been the most fun non-playoff Laker team since the days of Cedric Ceballos and Nick Van Exel.

But the real aim here is to find a way to open up cap space to retain Julius Randle while acquiring a lottery pick in the process. Obviously, that would be quite costly. But the big picture here is to roll out a five-man playoff level roster with some depth. Personally, I can understand trading Kyle Kuzma + Luol Deng + pick or Ingram + Deng. It’s a very bitter pill to swallow, but this is why cap rules exist. It’s a lot easier to think of it as “traded package” for a lottery pick to include Randle, while still keeping two max free agent spots open.

JR: As much as it’d hurt and as controversial as it may be, trading Kuzma with his value as high as it is wouldn’t be a terrible move, especially in a cap-clearing move with Deng involved.

The other problem is the Lakers set a precedent of attaching high-lottery talent to shed contracts which might bring Ingram into play. For me, if you look at it as a trade of Kuzma, Deng, the 25th pick and the 47th pick for, essentially, Smith and Randle, it’s a deal I make 10 times out of 10.

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