The idea of using the draft out of team need is based on positions. Do the Lakers have a starting point guard? Do the Lakers have a starting center?
When the answer is no, the idea of drafting out of need to fulfill a position can make sense. It gives the rookie an opportunity to expand his game and get playing time early. It gives the franchise less worry in regards to fulfilling a position through a trade.
Teams have addressed team need before in the draft, and it didn’t work out. Does anyone remember Rafael Araujo? The Toronto Raptors needed a center in the mid-2000’s, and one of their best projected centers in that draft was Rafael Araujo. What happened to him? He got a lot of playing time for the Raptors early. He got traded to Utah. It was evident that he couldn’t hang with NBA players. He’s been out of the league for a long time.
It can be argued the Lakers have done the same. Remember Brian Cook? It made sense to draft a 6’10” perimeter shooting power forward to give Shaquille O’Neal spacing in the paint. Did he get a lot of playing time? No. Could he hang defensively against other power forwards? No. Did he show any offensive skill outside of his jumpshot? No. Could he rebound? No.
What lesson can we learn about the draft?
Not all draft crops are the same. Some drafts have the best talent at wing positions. Some drafts have the best talent at point guard positions. Sometimes the draft has the best talent at the center position. When Brian Cook was drafted, the Lakers skipped on Leandro Barbosa. Not only did Barbosa get drafted by the Spurs, but he was mentored by Ron Harper. The Lakers had the inside scoop. They could have used a combo-guard with 3-point range that forced turnovers. He was a great sixth-man for the Phoenix Suns. He was fast too.
What about Rafael Araujo? Araujo was drafted #8. They missed out on Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, and Anderson Varejao. I think the Raptors could have used any of those guys, especially with McGrady gone in free agency and Vince Carter and Chris Bosh remaining as the franchise players.
So, what do the Lakers need? The answer is, a franchise player. While a franchise player can be acquired through free agency with cap room, there is also an outside chance of acquiring a franchise player through the draft. It’s different when players within the Laker team can integrate the culture and skill level into a rookie player. Could you imagine what Kobe Bryant could do with Dante Exum, Zach Lavine, or Rodney Hood? What about how Pau Gasol can affect Julius Randle‘s playmaking ability or Noah Vonleh in the post?
While there is a lot of growth for rookie players, under the new cap rules, it is best to just draft the best player available even when the position is reduntant. Elite level talent is hard to get. Elite level talent on a rookie scale contract is tougher to acquire. Franchise level talent on a rookie scale contract, would be the equivalent of striking gold.