Now, I know some people might see the headline of this article and say, “Isn’t it a little early to be looking forward to next year’s draft?” While that might be so for some other teams, the Los Angeles Lakers don’t have a lot to look forward to this season and, knowing management, are more than likely already looking at possible moves to make next offseason. Once the likes of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak will probably be more focused on courting 2015’s top free agents including LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and, potentially, Kevin Love. However, the Lakers find themselves in an intriguing and precarious situation involving the 2015 NBA Draft.
Unless the Lakers’ draft pick falls in the top five picks, the pick is owed to the Phoenix Suns as a result of the Steve Nash trade. However, if the Lakers’ pick lands in the top five, they have access to one of the more talented groups of top picks to come along in a while. The Lakers can go a lot of different ways as they have needs at almost every position and can take all the help they can get to become more competitive. However, the two positions of dire need are point guard and center. That being said, here are 4 prospects that would make a great fit with the team.
- Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. This, of course, would be the dream scenario for the Lakers as the team is and has always been a franchise with an affinity for post players. However, the team is almost certainly going to have to get the #1 overall pick to select Okafor. In his debut last night (albeit against a woeful Presbyterian team), Okafor scored 19 points and grabbed 9 boards while showing off solid hands, tremendous footwork, a great touch around the basket and the ability to run the floor well. It is obvious that he has the most established and polished skill set out of this class and his game and docile demeanor have drawn him comparisons to the great Tim Duncan in some circles. Okafor and Kobe Bryant could be a 1-2 punch that hasn’t been seen in LA since Shaq left. If the Lakers are fortunate enough to land Okafor, he is the type of player that can make an impact right away on both ends and be a franchise player for years down the road.
- Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong Southern Tigers (China). Some Lakers fans were salivating over the possibility of drafting Dante Exum from Australia in this year’s draft. Exum at 6’5 was a big guard with a smooth game and a knack for attacking the basket and some fans were disappointed when the team wasn’t able to get him. The team might get a second shot at selecting the point guard of the future in Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6’5 point guard who took the Brandon Jennings route and spurned Larry Brown at SMU to play overseas in the Chinese Basketball Association. Many have speculated that, like Jennings, going overseas could hurt his stock as he may not play a lot of minutes and thus might not produce as much as he would’ve playing at the collegiate level. However, Mudiay quickly silenced critics by posting a triple-double in his debut with the Tigers, scoring 22 points while dishing 13 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds. Mudiay is as gifted a guard offensively as they come, boasting a quick first step, a great ability to finish around the rim and a smooth 3-point stroke. He uses his ability to penetrate the lane to create opportunities for teammates and is also an aggressive rebounder for his position. Mudiay could be just what the team needs to kick-start an offense that often finds itself going stagnant outside of Kobe Bryant. Bryant has never played with a solid point guard and the two could form a formidable duo in the backcourt. The team has needed a solid point guard for a mighty long time now and Mudiay could be the one to finally deliver.
- Montrezl Harrell, F/C, Louisville. A tenacious two-way player with a knack for aggressively crashing the boards, Harrell probably would’ve been a lottery pick in last year’s draft. Instead, he decided to return to school and has come back better than ever, having added shooting ability to his arsenal. He can now not only bang inside, but can also step outside and hit jumpers from the top of the key as well as knock down the occasional three-pointer. Harrell is a high-energy player who doesn’t take plays off and is a beast down low. In this vein, he might be too similar to current Lakers center Jordan Hill for the team to pick him up. If they do, they would get a spark-plug player who can trigger runs with his hustle and give life to a team that desperately needs it. He’s not at the top of many draft boards at the moment, but with the way he played last night against Minnesota, don’t be surprised to see him make his way up in those standings.
- Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky. Cauley-Stein has always been an adept defender, shot-blocker and rebounder, which already makes him an ideal prospect for a Lakers team that badly needs a defensive anchor. However, Cauley-Stein has evolved and matured offensively since his arrival at Kentucky and is looking primed to have his best season yet, provided he can stay healthy. Aside from very miniscule health concerns, Cauley-Stein could be a pick that, with his quick development so far, could blossom into an All-Star talent much like Kentucky alum Anthony Davis has since he entered the league.
Is it time to embrace the tank? In my opinion, it’s too early to tell. However, if they do, these 4 players would be great players to consider with a top-5 pick.