Lakers

Are the Lakers NBA’s Best Drafters in Recent History?

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The Los Angeles Lakers are down to three players who were originally drafted by the organization.

Marc Gasol, a second-round pick back in 2007, was quickly traded for his brother, Pau. Talen Horton-Tucker, the 46th pick in the 2019 draft, has become a bright spot for an organization that does not have another player under 23. Finally, Kyle Kuzma was originally Brooklyn’s pick, but was traded alongside Brook Lopez in exchange for D’Angelo Russell (more on him later) and a Timofey Mozgov on one of the worst deals in basketball history.

Usually it’s a red flag when a team has this little homegrown talent. It can be a sign of incompetent scouting and less-than-stellar player development (*cough* *cough* Kings, Hornets, Knicks). However, that is not the case with the most successful franchise in pro-basketball history. As you will discover, that cannot be further from the truth.

2013

We begin with the 2013 draft, as that was the year owner Jerry Buss passed away and management transitioned to the guidance of Jeanie Buss. The Lakers would go into the night without their first-round pick due to the Steve Nash trade that had transpired the previous offseason. That pick would become Nemanja Nedović, so the club would not be missing out on much. Their only pick of the night would be No. 48, where they selected Duke big man, Ryan Kelly.

Kelly was no Isaiah Thomas steal in the second round, but for the position the club was in and from the available options, they did a nice job. In hindsight, the only player available that would have been better for the club would have been Cal State Long Beach wingman, James Ennis.

Kelly would go on to average 6.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in his three seasons with the purple and gold. He would also become one of the only consistent rotational pieces in the dark years of the franchise.

GRADE: C

2014

This would mark the first of six-straight lottery-ridden seasons where the Lakers would not even sniff the postseason. The club finished with a putrid 55 losses and would pick 7th in the upcoming draft. Looking at the roster, they were in desperate need of a power forward with the aforementioned Kelly being the only one on the roster after Pau Gasol left in free agency.

Mock drafts had the Lakers between two 4s, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Gordon would go on to be drafted No. 4 overall by the Magic which left the Lakers with an easy choice in Randle. The club would not be done that night, however, when they traded for the 46th pick for cash and selected Missouri guard, Jordan Clarkson.

Julius Randle

As for Randle, he has been one of the most underrated players in the league, blossoming into a perennial 20-10 guy with the Knicks and Pelicans after spending four seasons in Tinseltown.

Randle has turned into a glue guy everywhere he has been. He was a solid presence in dysfunctional Los Angeles, a professional with the Anthony Davis trade in New Orleans, and now has the Knicks relevant. Looking at big men who were taken after him, only one has gone on to have undisputedly a better career: Nikola Jokic. There was no chance the Lakers were going to take an unproven Serbian player seventh overall, so it was the right pick.

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson and Randle would usher in a new era of Lakers basketball, bringing youth and energy to a squad desperate for it. Although Randle would go on to miss his rookie season, Clarkson would exceed expectations his rookie year, averaging 11.9 points per game and making the all-rookie first team. He finished his LA tenure averaging 14.3 points per contest.

In 2018, Clarkson would be traded with Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland for a Finals run with LeBron James in 2018 and has since become a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate with Utah in his seventh season. No one drafted below him has played more than four seasons, so it was a home run of a pick.

GRADE: A

2015

The Lakers finished the 2015 season with a 21-61 record– the worst in franchise history. The organization was not used to this futility. In hopes of ending it, they had to swing for the fences and try to surround an aging Kobe Bryant with talent ready to compete while also keeping young pieces for the future.

D’Angelo Russell

This would mark the first of three consecutive seasons the Lakers held the No. 2 pick. This year they would select Ohio State combo guard D’Angelo Russell. The decision came down to Russell or Okafor and looking back, the team made the correct decision. Devin Booker would have been a better pick in retrospect, but there was zero chance he was going in the top five.

DLo would have a brief stint with the franchise due to off-the-court issues. He flashed greatness, but inconsistency and not handing the keys of the franchise over prevented him from reaching his potential. Once the pressure was off of him, he shined in Brooklyn. Russell went on to average 19.0 points and 6.3 assists for a Nets team that shocked the world by making the playoffs in 2019.

Since then, he has become one of the league’s premier scorers and facilitators.

Larry Nance Jr.

Out of Wyoming, Nance Jr. was mainly an unknown besides his relation to Larry Nance Sr. The Lakers obtained the 27th pick in one of the most lopsided trades. With it, they selected their 3rd power forward in as many drafts. Nance turned into a savvy rotational piece for the squad, providing much more impact than his stats would dictate.

He would go on to Cleveland in the aforementioned trade with Clarkson and continue his good play in limited minutes. The Lakers could have taken current Laker Montrezl Harrell or Josh Richardson if the team wanted a wing instead.

Despite exemplifying his worth in limited minutes, Nance has always been surrounded by players at his position vying for time on the same team. It remains to be seen what would happen if he got starter minutes on a team with less of a log jam at his position. Perhaps he could flourish with a bigger role.

Anthony Brown

This was a miss for the fourth pick in the second round. Brown was out of the league in two years and only played one with the team. He never materialized as the 3-and-D player the team envisioned. As for players selected after him that fit that bill, Josh Richardson, Pat Connaughton and Norman Powell. Swing and a miss.

GRADE: B

2016

2016 was worse than the previous year. The team went 17-65– that’s just two wins out of every ten games. Only the openly tanking 76ers finished with a worse record. Kobe retired after the year’s end, Russell had a disappointing rookie season and they signed Mozgov and Luol Deng (a contract so bad they are still paying it). They needed a new start, a new era, and a new face of the franchise.

Brandon Ingram

Luckily for Laker Nation, there was a 6’10” scoring machine available at No. 2 who had Kevin Durant comparisons. Brandon Ingram took some time to develop into the All-Star he is today, but the finished product is arguably the best out of the class. The player he is in New Orleans is so dynamic offensively and improving every day.

In his three seasons in L.A., he averaged 13.9 points per game, nearly 10 fewer than his average for the Pelicans. Luke Walton did not use him properly as a facilitator and a second ball-handler to Russell. As a result, he did not get the best version of BI. It is a shame not to see him hooping like this in the purple and gold. He is one of the easiest players to root for and will be a perennial All-Star for the next decade.

Ivica Zubac

Zu-Block, Zublocka, Big Z, Zu, Zupac, Zu Alcindor, call him whatever but call him good. Ivica Zubac was a pleasant surprise for the Lakers his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds over 16.0 minutes per game. He surpassed most expectations his rookie year but failed to build on it his sophomore season as a result of his minutes being cut in half.

In his third year, he was averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in fewer minutes (15.6/game), but out of nowhere was traded to the Clippers for Mike Muscala. Since going to the Clips, he has become a double-double threat and a great pick-and-roll finisher. The only player selected after Zu who has had a better career is Malcolm Brogdon. This was the correct selection, but, they missed on his trade value.

GRADE: A+

2017

The Lakers got their best haul this year after improving by nine wins. They didn’t finish with the worst record in their division for the first time since 2013. Even with all that improvement, they lucked out with the No. 2 once again. That would not be the highlight in hindsight, because their value was the real star that night.

Lonzo Ball

The most scrutinized prospect in recent NBA history, Lonzo Ball came into the league with sky-high expectations. The comparisons to Jason Kidd were too lofty to begin with, but nevertheless, he instantly had a target on his back the moment he got drafted. He went on to win Summer League MVP, raising expectations even higher.

So far in his four years, his draft-day analysis was not up to par. He is a better defender than anticipated and the same playmaker we all envisioned, but his scoring and aggressiveness are holding him back. Over his career, he has attempted more three pointers per game than 2s, which doesn’t make sense when he is guarded by smaller defenders as a 6’6″ point guard. Another staggering stat is he is only averaging 1.2 free throws per game at a 49% career clip.

At this point in his career, Lonzo can be categorized a disappointment. His brother LaMelo has been more aggressive just 20 games into his career, while Lonzo has plateaued in his 4th season. With Zion and BI the future for the Pelicans, there may not be room for Ball’s services. Lonzo is set to hit restricted free agency this summer.

To make matters worse, All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum was taken by the Lakers’ rivals one pick later and De’Aaron Fox was selected fifth.

Kyle Kuzma

In a salary-dumping move, the Lakers traded the aforementioned Russell and Mozgov for Lopez and the No. 27 in this draft. With this selection, they went with Utah forward Kyle Kuzma. I went into detail about Kuzma in my most recent article. To sum it up, he has terrific value for where he was drafted. Better perimeter players selected after him include Derrick White and Dillon Brooks.

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Josh Hart

Another player that could be considered better than Kuzma is Josh Hart. He was traded along with a second-round pick on draft night to the team for Tony Bradley. One of the most underrated 3-and-D players in the league, Hart is dynamite in limited minutes.

Hart is the anti-Lonzo. He drives to the cup every chance he gets and is incredibly physical defensively. It’s disappointing that the Lakers were unable to hold onto him in Anthony Davis trade. The Villanova wing was the best player available and highlights another example of the Lakers’ scouting prowess. He is also one of the most entertaining people on Twitch.

Thomas Bryant

The second-round pick traded with Hart went on to become Thomas Bryant. Another underrated player in the league, Bryant has averaged 18.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career. The Lakers waived him to create cap space for LeBron, but since arriving in Washington, he has become a core piece of their organization. Before unfortunately tearing his ACL this season, he was having a career year, but his future looks bright nonetheless.

Bryant was the best player available at No. 42. Did you know he has shot over 40% from 3 the past two years?

BONUS: Alex Caruso

Caruso was not drafted by the Lakers, but rather signed the team’s first two-way contract. He has become an integral part of a championship team and has arguably the two best nicknames in sports– The Bald Eagle and the CaruSHOW.

GRADE: A-

2018

For the first time since 2013, the Lakers did not have a lottery pick. Some may see this as a sign of improvement, but they finished with the 11th-best record in the West. They did not own their pick this year because of the Steve Nash trade. The pick would become Mikal Bridges, who is emerging as a potential future star. The Lakers would obtain a first-round pick, however, because of this trade with Cleveland.

Moritz Wagner

Mo Wagner led the Michigan Wolverines to the NCAA championship game just a few months before the draft. The near-seven-foot European big man was compared to Kelly Olynyk initially.

Like Bryant, he too was sent to Washington after a disappointing first season in Los Angeles. Since then, he has blossomed into a rotational piece who adds scoring and shooting, but that is about it. His rebounding continues to improve, and some more development in the system should do him wonders. Playing alongside fellow Euro-shooting big Davis Bertans bodes well for his potential path to growth.

This was a miss as there are several shooters and/or big men that would go onto be drafted later: Landry Shamet, Robert Williams, Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham, Gary Trent Jr. and Mitchell Robinson among others.

Isaac Bonga

Isaac Bonga joined Wagner on the Lakers-Wizards trade after just one year as a Laker. He started his career becoming popular in NBA 2K (ironically) for having the lowest rating in the game. Bonga was the definition of boom or bust coming out of Germany because he was an unknown. He has been more bust, however, as he has yet to find his rhythm in DC.

This was a miss. Nearly anyone taken after would have been better. Specifically, De’Anthony Melton and Shake Milton would have been better selections.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk

With their last pick of the night, Los Angeles selected Svi Mykhailiuk. Svi, too, did not last long in LA. He was shipped to Detroit in exchange for Reggie Bullock. Since arriving in Motor City, he has become a serviceable three-point shooter. Milton was the only player selected after who has found more success in the NBA, so overall this was a good pick. The draft, however, marked severe regression after years of progress.

GRADE: D

2019

After signing LeBron, many suspected the Lakers to be a contender in his first season. That plan went sideways after The King suffered a groin injury on Christmas. This allowed the Lakeshow to capture the No. 4 overall pick with a little help from the new NBA lottery. They dangled this pick in a massive package for Anthony Davis, eventually netting the team an NBA championship.

Talen Horton-Tucker

With the 46th pick in the 2019 draft, the Lakers selected unofficial 2020 NBA preseason MVP: THT. He has already shown tremendous amounts of potential and promise, entering himself into the rotation at 20 years old. Horton-Tucker will be a big piece of the Lakers’ title defense and a vital piece of the future. He was far and away the best player available and is a classic example of the rich getting richer. They could not have done better with a mid-second-round pick.

GRADE: A+

The Lakers do not boast a rookie on their roster. After a lengthy rebuild, you’d expect to have young pieces on the team in hopes of competing in the future.

LA did the opposite.

They currently have the oldest team in the league and have already won their 17th ring. It is an example of finding talent, developing it, and trading it for assets. They have been arguably the best drafting team over the past half-decade. It is why they are one of the best organizations in sports.

Some may credit it to location and history, but the Bulls and Knicks haven’t had this success. It takes a lot more than that and the Lakers’ drafting ability is one of the primary reasons why they are on top of the NBA.

Follow us on Twitter @LakersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight. 

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