Laker fans rejoiced when the ping pong balls bounced their way this week, as the franchise was awarded the No. 2 pick in this year's NBA Draft. It's the highest they've picked since taking James Worthy No. 1 overall in 1982.
This pick is an extremely important selection for the Lakers, and it's a major test for their front office and scouting departments. I've had tough words for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak on this site before. I've also been critical of the team's nepotistic scouting department, led by Jesse Buss and Ryan West (sons of two different men named Jerry). Now is their opportunity to prove their worth.
The Lakers are essentially being told: "You can pick any guy in the draft, except one." It's very enticing. And it sounds almost easy. Except for the fact that teams have a shocking history of screwing up the No. 2 pick. Most recently, there was a string of four-straight No. 2 busts in Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Evan Turner, and Derrick Williams from 2008-11.
Since 2000, here is a list of players taken No. 2 overall, and then the players that should have been taken instead:
Drafted: Stromile Swift, Grizzlies
Better Player: Michael Redd (43rd pick)
Drafted: Tyson Chandler, Clippers (traded to Bulls)
Better Player: Pau Gasol (3)
NOTE: Chandler became a good player, but it took him several years to realize his potential. This draft also had future stars such as Joe Johnson (10), Zach Randolph (19), Tony Parker (28), and Gilbert Arenas (31)
Drafted: Jay Williams, Bulls
Better Player: Amare Stoudemire (9)
Drafted: Darko Milicic, Pistons
Better Player: Carmelo Anthony (3), Chris Bosh (4), Dwyane Wade (5)
Drafted: Emeka Okafor, Bobcats
Better Player: Luol Deng (7), Andre Iguodala (9), Al Jefferson (15)
Drafted: Marvin Williams, Hawks
Better Player: Deron Williams (3), Chris Paul (4)
Drafted: LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers
Better Player: None, but Rajon Rondo (21) and Kyle Lowry (24) have arguably had equally good careers
Drafted: Kevin Durant, Sonics
Better Player: No one
Drafted: Michael Beasley, Heat
Better Player: Russell Westbrook (4), Kevin Love (5)
Drafted: Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies
Better Player: James Harden (3), Stephen Curry (7)
Drafted: Evan Turner, 76ers
Better Player: DeMarcus Cousins (5), Paul George (10)
Drafted: Derrick Williams, Timberwolves
Better Player: Klay Thompson (11), Kawhi Leonard (15)
Drafted: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats
Better Player: Bradley Beal (3), Damian Lillard (6)
Drafted: Victor Oladipo, Magic
Better Player: Possibly no one, but it's still too early to tell
Drafted: Jabari Parker, Bucks
Better Player: Too early to tell. Parker suffered a season-ending injury in December.
It's interesting to note that more than half of these players were complete busts. Only twice in the first 13 years of this century was the second-best player actually taken (Durant and Aldridge).
It's also interesting that 13 of the 15 players taken No. 2 overall since 2000 were 6-foot-7 or taller. Teams seem to miss on big men a lot. The only guards were Oladipo, who looks like a legitimately good player, and Jay Williams, whose career ended after a motorcycle accident after his first season. Many of the best players passed up were guards like Wade, Paul, Westbrook, Harden, Curry, Lillard, and others. Those are all players that a team could build a franchise around.
So what does this mean for the Lakers? Reportedly, the Lakers are enamored with two big men projected to go at the top of the draft in Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke's Jahlil Okafor. Most pundits have Towns going No. 1 overall to Minnesota and then the Lakers taking Okafor second.
But the Lakers should think twice before taking Okafor (right). I've heard several scouts insist that Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell is the second-best player in this draft after Towns. The NBA has changed in the last decade or so, and you could argue that dynamic scoring guards are more valuable than big men. In addition to Russell, the Lakers should take a long look at guard Emmanuel Mudiay who played in China this past year, and I'm personally a big fan of guard/forward Justise Winslow from Duke.
While I personally love Towns, I wasn't all that impressed with Okafor during the NCAA Tournament, especially with his lackluster play in the national championship game. Sure, it's possible that Okafor will make the transition to the NBA, and become as good as LaMarcus Aldridge. But given recent NBA Draft history, it's entirely possible to see him as the next Emeka Okafor, or someone much worse.
Also, the Lakers already have a highly-drafted power forward in Julius Randle. While they could try to have a strong front line, I'm skeptical as to how well Randle and Okafor would play with each other. If they insist on taking Okafor, then perhaps Randle could be traded.
The Lakers don't have much margin error. Unless they have a top-three pick next year, their selection is going to Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash trade. In 2018, their first round pick will most likely go to Orlando due to the Dwight Howard trade. So the Lakers are looking at no first round selections in two of the next three years.
The duo of Jesse Buss and Ryan West made a nice second round pick last year in Jordan Clarkson. While he's definitely not a superstar, Clarkson is a good complementary player who would be valuable for any good team. I believe that he could play in the backcourt with a guy like Russell or Mudiay. But Clarkson aside, this draft pick is ultimately how we'll evaluate the Lakers current basketball operations department. If they draft a star, then they could be employed for a long time. If they draft a bust, then expect a new front office regime in a few years.