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Luka Doncic dominated Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi Finals. What does this have to do with the draft?
Those who have followed me for a while, whether it’s Twitter or LakersGround, know how adamant I am about drafting the best player available.
The cycle keeps repeating. The Golden State Warriors needed a center, and chose one over LaMelo Ball. While they’re doing well in these playoffs, how much better would they be with LaMelo instead? In my opinion, a lot, even if his minutes may be tied down a bit more. I’ve mentioned before that the worst case scenario with BPAs is trading for a need. Unlike most rookies, where I’m also adamant about not relying on them for early individual playoff success, LaMelo would find a way.
This leads me to Phoenix, where the Suns already had Devin Booker. The best player was clearly Luka, and yet, they opted to draft Ayton in the hopes of him becoming a dominant center.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the possibility is still there. He’s a shot blocking giant with feet that work in the paint and the perimeter. But, when a guy primarily works within 15’ of the hoop, and doesn’t show much out of it, you need to be especially dominant in that area of the floor to make up for the missing skill sets everywhere else. If it’s Shaq we’re talking about, then it’s a no brainer decision, but this isn’t Shaq.
Phoenix had the opportunity to draft my favorite archetype, jumbo initiators. Luka was entering the league as a three-level scorer, elite level playmaker, with proven playoff experience in one of the toughest competitive leagues outside of the NBA. How important is that?
Click here for a short thread about how Luka was handling the mismatch.
It’s smart to not get too tied up in certain physical skills of players. What Luka lacked in burst, he made up for with ball-handling, deceleration, and the clear ability to open up enough of a window to get good shots. It wasn’t that long ago where he was lighting up both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for several 40+ point games in the playoffs. Ayton was even easier.
Good Players Find Playing Time
So, what does this mean? Well, it’s not just about finding a guy that gives a competitive or absolute advantage over the rest of the league. I mean, that’s the general idea of what top players in the NBA do, right? They can’t be stopped, they can only be contained. Phoenix, couldn’t do either in the most critical game of the past two seasons. It didn’t matter how well rounded the rest of the Suns roster was. Clearly, at the top of the draft, best player available matters, even if you have to restructure your team identity. It’s worth it to get that competitive or absolute advantage.
The same principle goes to everywhere else in the draft. It wasn’t that long ago where we looked at the Laker roster, in full knowledge that it was stacked with guards. Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Kendrick Nunn. Where would be the playing time for another rookie guard?
When applying a BPA philosophy, it starts to get more obvious that players will find their way to more playing time. It’s not like a roster stays 100% healthy all season, with consistent lineups all season long. The season is a marathon, and if chaos is a ladder, Austin Reaves climbed that latter and was really one of the top five playable guys on the team.
Did it matter that he had an inconsistent shooting night several times? Not really. He found ways to have positive impact on the floor, especially with his defensive motor and three-point gravity. Imagine how many other players went undrafted. How many of them got picked up by teams and did just as well as Reaves?
An Assumption About The NBA Draft
We’ve taken a brief look at BPAs at the top of the draft and at the end of the draft as well. But just to emphasize the point, the NBA draft NEVER goes in order of best player in descending order. Teams have different philosophies, player training, cultures, and other unique situations that can affect the approach to the draft. Skills are skills, and I’ve more recently come to the realization that my draft philosophy is more based on which triple threat skills or combination of skills help foster a higher upside player, more so than athletic ability and movement skills. There are still times where it’s worth taking a chance on a player with certain sizes and movement abilities, of course, but the trick is to know what you’re looking for and rank guys accordingly. That isn’t easy.
This link is an introduction to that level of ranking. It’s not finalized, and more information comes out daily, so players will be adjusted accordingly. I’m still looking for recent and accurate recordings of player size, and am only really confident through the first 36 players or so. I’m still working on what the 2nd round may look like, down into the undrafted portion. Keep in mind, I’m using the big board as a BPA list without any ties to a team.
I would also recommend using the link to create your own personal big boards as well.
Guys To Watch
There are some players that I have paid attention to that are more Laker-specific. I’m not clear where they’ll land in the draft, but they are players that are worth a closer look.
I’ll start with Jalen Williams, who is a jumbo initiator for Santa Clara, with clear triple threat skills, NBA size, and three-level scoring ability. I’ve stated before that he was a clear first rounder. Am I looking at defense really? Admittedly, not yet. I’m looking for guys that I’m confident can make the league, not immediate playoff contributors.
I have also mentioned Keon Ellis. While he’s older than most prospects and still a bit thin in terms of an NBA body, he has a clear motor defensively, especially at the point of attack, shows some explosiveness at the rim when the lane is open, and is a reliable arc shooter at all corners of the floor, even after a pump-fake and a side-step. He’s a more clear archetype of what the Lakers may be looking for.
Julian Strawther is also a three-level guard. It’s tempting to label him as a wing, because he’s listed at 6’7”, but I have a hunch it’s more like 6’5.5” w/o shoes with a 6’9” wingspan. I prefer to play him as a big guard with size, instead of a wing with a possible strength mismatch.
If there’s one unique aspect to Julian Strawther, it’s that I like his foundation of triple-threat skills as a big guard. He doesn’t show a ton of change of direction, but he does show some passing acumen, comfort as a three-level scorer, and enough ball-handling ability to attack closeouts and use a floater when the defense is walled-up. That’s a great foundation to build on, and there are a lot of guards that do not have that combination of skills and size in the draft. That’s also why I have him listed as a late-1st rounder for this draft. That’s a higher ranking that most other sites, but Keon Ellis and Jalen Williams should be seen a higher light than their relative current rankings elsewhere.
Other Players Worth Watching
Hyunjung Lee is a fun watch. I would also consider him a 1st round ranking. He’s not a super explosive player, but what I appreciate about his game is his total focus to off-ball play, screen utilization, movement shooting, and 3-point gravity. If I was a foot taller, I’d want to play like him too.
I wouldn’t expect him to get the same usage that he’s been getting out of Davidson. He doesn’t have a lot of touch time with the ball, and is decisive about what he’s going to do with it in terms of shooting, attacking, and kicking-out. This is an underrated aspect to evaluation. Ball movement leads to open shots, and to facilitate ball movement, decision-making needs to be quick while also facilitating to low-risk play.
Trevion Williams is arguably the best passer out of the draft. With that line, you’d think he’s a point guard, but he’s a center. He was the post-up hub at Iowa, and exhibits Jokic-level passing ability by age. Why isn’t he ranked higher? He’s not over 7’ and he lacks range beyond 15’. Admittedly, there isn’t much optimism for him to add range considering he’s floated between 50% and 60% free throw shooting throughout his NCAA career. He’s also a bit foul-prone for an experienced player. Over 4 fouls per-40 is quite a bit, and this is why he’s been consistently listed as a second rounder to undrafted.
However, there is a path for him to eventually earn quality playing time in the NBA. While he isn’t the greatest rim protector, he has a rebound rate of 22%, an assist rate over 34%, and a turnover rate just under 17%. He shows consistent steal and block rates, which is also an indicator of his defensive feel for the game tied to his physical tools of wingspan and giant mitts for hands. Those numbers tend to translate to a player than averages over 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks next level. Some centers never really break outside of a 10% assist rate, but his 34% assist rate is an indicator of how great his decision-making and passing skills are.
As mentioned earlier, we’re looking for BPAs, especially ones that provide that competitive or absolute advantage over the rest of the league. He has that with his passing ability and size combination. He can help expand the playbook a bit, especially in terms of having an offensive hub in the halfcourt and finding shooters. I love that he commits to the pass as a cutter draws some defensive attention and gravity. The timing is perfect. He can read the full width of the floor and you know these reads are easy for him when he’s able to manipulate defenses with his eyes and pass in a different direction.
The first 4:00 of this video is Jokic-level, special passing. It may be too good to pass up, pun intended.
If I worked for a franchise, and he fell far in the draft, would I purchase a draft pick for him? The answer, is yes. Where would I draft him? I’m still deciding, really. It’s tough at the NBA level to have a center that isn’t the strongest rim protector, and admittedly, it would take unique players around him to make it work. But, if the guy next to him is Anthony Davis, there’s a clearer path to success.
When people think of a wing to help the Lakers, and more of a draft by need, a player like MarJon Beauchamp should be in the discussion. I think of a guy with some two-way ability, hit corner 3’s, be athletic around the rim, and have some kind of defensive ability, whether it’s individual man-defense or special team defense. Beauchamp encompasses all that and is consistently mocked in the mid-late 1st round.
His aggression when he attacks the rim can give the indication that he’s ready for contact but decides to go with authority to make it a successful attempt. I cannot emphasize this enough, but playing physically on both ends of the floor is a strong indicator of NBA-readiness. Beauchamp initiates contact on his drives and uses his chest to slow down or stop oncoming offensive players on the drive. This is a great sign! He’ll still be picked on defensively because he’s a rookie, and rookies don’t get the benefit of the call, but considering his size, athletic ability, physicality, and shooting ability, MarJon is likely to be higher ranked on the Lakers’ board compared to others. He’s consistently ranked in the late 1st-round, but I’d bump him 5-10 spots higher where he’s projected.
This post turned into a bit of draft philosophy, a bit of players watched worth looking over, and a few new players worth looking at from the late 1st round and into the 2nd round. I will continue to add more players to the list, but so far, these are the players I have stronger conviction for compared to other posted mock drafts. I may have a few more guys ranked 1st round than others. That’s important, because it’s a reflection of the depth of the draft and quality talent slipping down and worth acquiring.
One More Thing
Austin Reaves’ situation last season was rare, and difficult to duplicate, but I’m onboard with the idea of splitting the mid-level exception to try an acquire a 1st round talent.
It is an absolute prayer of it working, and tremendously high risk. It would be a lot on the Laker scouting department to acquire a player that is more NBA ready than others, as that is often difficult to project. But, in a draft full of wing talent from the mid 1st-round and later, it is an option. A wing player that could play 10-15 minutes a game is a big deal to this Laker roster.
This link includes projected NBA 1st round salaries, and starting from the end of the lottery to the end of the 1st round, the 14th pick would earn $3.22 million on a guaranteed contract, down to the 30th pick at $1.8 million.
This post states that the tax-payer mid-level exception is around $4.49 million.
This link has a list of NBA free agents for 2022.
I read that list and wasn’t optimistic for finding a veteran wing player for the Lakers with the MLE. Frankly, I think the younger players will get paid more and stay with their teams, while other players are in their last year or two in the league. Finding young, athletic wing players with upside is hard to find especially when NBA teams won’t easily just let them go.
Personally, if I was in the draft and a projected 1st round pick that, for whatever reason was slipping through the draft, I would want to be signed for a partial MLE basically get an equivalent 1st round contract as a UDFA. Splitting the tax-payer MLE in half is like getting a guaranteed contract of the 19th pick in the 1st round, and I would go for a two-year guarantee with a third year team option.
Austin Reaves set a very high bar in terms of positive contribution on the floor. If the Lakers were in the playoffs, I’d be very comfortable playing him over 15 minutes per game. It’s too tough to find a wing-level starter for the tax-payer MLE, but finding a rotation wing player would be tremendous.
Using this option helps open up the idea of finding more talented wing prospects as well, and guys like MarJon Beauchamp and Jalen Williams can come into play, while other prospects that I haven’t covered yet in Vince Williams Jr., Patrick Baldwin Jr., Gabriele Procida, Josh Minott, Jaden Hardy, Max Christie, Harrison Ingram, and Nikola Jovic can also come into play.
I’m looking forward to more information coming out about the upcoming draft, in terms of official NBA player sizes, combine play, player interviews, and notes about team workouts. Until next time…
The MLE should be closer to 6.3 mil and lakers also have a few small TPEs that I believe they could use to sign a 2nd rd pick/undrafted guy with.
Love your coverage. Can’t wait to see how this draft plays out.
Have you had a chance to scout Texas Tech Wing, Bryson Williams, or UCONN G/SF, Tyrese Martin?
Both look like they are big wings/guards that can provide shot creation abilities. Williams seems like more of a scorer, whereas Martin is more of a glue-guy with good rebounding ability.
They were just invited to the NBA combine after showing out in the G-League camp. Just curious what you thought.