With the Los Angeles Lakers set to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, the 2015 NBA Draft might be crucial in the team’s effort to become a winner, once again. While L.A. has a chance to select a future All-Star, they could also leave the draft empty handed.
Los Angeles isn’t guaranteed to keep their draft pick. They sent the Phoenix Suns future first-round draft picks in the 2012 trade that netted them Steve Nash. If the Lakers’ pick falls outside of the top-five pick this year, it will go to Phoenix.
The way the Lakers are playing, they are headed for one of the best picks in the draft. Through 51 games, only three teams have a worse record than L.A.’s 13-38 mark. They are 1.5 games behind the Orlando Magic, but they are unlikely to move up further than No.5 in the draft lottery, considering they are five game back of the Utah Jazz, who occupy the sixth lottery spot.
There’s little reason to believe the Lakers will have much success for the rest of the year. Not only is Kobe Bryant done for the rest of the season with an injury, but it would behoove them to lose the rest of their games. There will be a lot of young, talented players taken at the top of the first round, which is something Los Angeles’ roster currently lacks.
It’s been a decade since the Lakers drafted a player that had a significant impact on the team, when they selected Andrew Bynum at No.10 overall. The organization took Julius Randle at No.7 overall in 2014, but a broken leg in the season opener has kept him sidelined for the season. The Lakers drafted Marc Gasol in 2007, but he was traded for his brother Pau Gasol, and never played a minute for L.A. Los Angeles never drafted higher than No.41 from 2010-2013.
If the Lakers wind up with the No.1 pick, general manager Mitch Kupchak is likely to leave the draft with an impact player. Jahlil Okafor is the top prize in the 2015 draft for every team, and he’s become the consensus No.1 pick. The big man from Duke is just a freshman, but he would quickly become one of the Lakers’ top scoring threats. In three months of college basketball, the 19-year-old is averaging 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, shooting 65.9 percent from the field.
Bryant and the Lakers have always thrived with an elite big man. After Shaquille O’Neal’s time with the team ended, Pau Gasol came to L.A. and helped lead the Lakers to three straight NBA Finals appearances. In limited action, Randle, a pure power forward, showed promise to develop into a solid contributor in Los Angeles, but Okafor has a much higher ceiling.
Landing Okafor, though, could prove difficult, since teams like the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers currently would end the year with a worse record. Still, the Lakers can get a quality player at No.4 or No.5.
Stanley Johnson from Arizona may also be on the Lakers’ radar if he declares for the draft. In 23 games for the Wildcats, the freshman is averaging 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The Lakers have lacked a good swingman in recent years, relying on players like Wes Johnson and Nick Young. Johnson could be a great fit as the team rebuilds.
Los Angeles might also target D'Angelo Russell. The freshman has emerged as the best point guard in the college basketball, averaging 19.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game for Ohio State. Jeremy Lin isn’t likely to return next season, having struggled to fit in with the Lakers, and Ronnie Price is not expected to be a part of the team’s long-term plans.
Should the Lakers somehow miss out on Okafor, Johnson and Russell, Kupchak would likely target Karl-Anthony Towns, a 6'11 forward with the Kentucky Wildcats. Scouts have been impressed by his upside, but Towns remains rather raw despite a surge in production in recent games.
If the Lakers ended the season with the fourth-worst record, there’s an 82.8 percent chance that they’ll get a top-five selection.