Draft rumors are running rampart this time of year! Perhaps the biggest debate so far is which direction the Lakers will go in with the number 2 overall pick. The consensus is they will select either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, with the latter as the hands-down favorite if Towns is off the board.
However, another talented prospect is defiantly placing his name into the discussion: Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell.
It’s easy to see why LA is infatuated with Russell. He’s an extremely confident player with the skill and work ethic to match. As a possible heir to Kobe Bryant’s throne, there is no better understudy to groom in the field. With size (6’5), decent athleticism and the ability to play both guard spots effectively, Russell could easily be the next Brandon Roy.
In the short-term, he figures to fight for playing time with 2015 All-Rookie 1st-Teamer Jordan Clarkson, as well as Kobe in the backcourt. Russell, Clarkson, and Kobe could even play together for short stretches, resulting in great offensive creativity and playmaking if everyone buys in. After Kobe’s contract is up at the end of the year, Russell could be ready to slot in as the Lakers’ primary shooting guard.
Okafor, on the other hand, gives Los Angeles their top post presence since the Shaquille O’Neal era (sorry Andrew Bynum!). With polished footwork on the block and an improving attack driving to the basket, he is easily a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2016 and can create a versatile frontline next to Julius Randle (7th overall, 2014).
Although Okafor is a potential go-to guy offensively, he does not project as a solid rim protector since he does not move well laterally and lacks supreme athleticism.
In the end, it’s a tough decison because pivots with Okafor’s prowess (at such an early age) do not come around too often. For Mitch Kupchack, EVERYTHING needs to be taken into account before deciding which direction to go in.
Does Okafor fit long-term with Randle? Can Clarkson and Russell, two average shooters, space the floor enough? Can they attract a marquee free agent (Goran Dragic, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, etc.) to offset the player they passed on (either Russell or Okafor) in the draft?
Next season is likely another transition year for the Lakers, despite the opportunity to possibly challenge for a playoff berth. With the league trending towards even more guard-driven play and small ball, we have a gut feeling that LA will select Russell over Okafor.
Though it is extremely tough to sell the drafting of a “small” over a “big” to your fan base, Russell has the type of talent to develop into an All-Star and the Lakers have money to blow in free agency.
Exciting times lie ahead in La-La land. This upcoming draft could shape (or break) their future. The search is on for their next leading man.