Every draft has its share of project players. They are project players because their skill level hasn’t advanced enough to contribute consistently at the NBA level. Yet, with their individual instincts and physical tools, they are still able to be effective on the NBA floor.
Who would be the available project players for the Lakers?
Dante Exum is a project player. While it is very unlikely that he’ll slide to the Lakers pick, he has the skill level to warrant being a top-5 pick. He turns 19 in July, but has a great combination of length, triple threat skills, and two-way ability. Strength, shot-form, and athleticism are all things he needs to work on. He is slight of frame at roughly 190lbs. It works as a point guard, but not as a shooting guard. His shot pocket to release point leads to a flat shot. A higher release point would add greater arc and a more consistent trajectory on the ball from range. Questions have been made about his explosiveness to the hoop. He has the quickness and length to finish over NBA paint players, but adding a few inches to the vertical never hurt anyone.
Noah Vonleh is a project player. While he has the physical tools, he has yet to combine his skill level and physical tools altogether. The great wingspan and hands don’t lead to powerful finishes in the paint. The draft combine states he clearly has the vertical ability to do so. Decision-making with the basketball needs development. His assist-to-turnover ratio is poor. It’s not due to his ball-handling ability, but he gets stripped of the basketball in the paint from other guards often. He lacks the court awareness to make the right pass when he draws in the defense. His footwork, while seemingly advanced, leads to poor, unbalanced shots in the paint. He’s willing to work on his skill level on both ends, but this is a matter of basketball IQ.
Aaron Gordon is a project player. He has average size for a forward position, but elite level athleticism in regards to lateral quickness, speed, and explosiveness at the hoop. Unlike most paint players, he has a foundation of triple threat skills. Yes, he shoots 35% behind the arc. That would be considered above average for a 19 year old power forward. He’s able to go coast-to-coast after grabbing a defensive rebound. He lacks post up skills, isolation skills, and a consistent jumpshot. All NBA players refine their jumpshots in the league. His defense and rebounding ability are ready to contribute. His offensive skills may be limited early on, but his basketball IQ, reflected by the assist-to-turnover ratio, show that he can be a positive on the team when he’s on the floor.
Elfrid Payton is a project player. While he has excellent height and length for a point guard, he lacks decision-making with his shot selection. He lacks a soft touch everywhere on the court. He can finish athletically in the paint, but gets caught up taking circus shots around NBA length. He lacks a perimeter shooting touch. This hurts his upside as an NBA threat from the get-go. Fortunately, his defense, playmaking, and offensive skill set in isolation is ahead of the curve. It just so happens that his ability to shoot is so detrimental, it’ll affect his passing and his driving lanes.
Joel Embiid is a project player. His length is elite for an NBA center. His skill level is advanced at both ends of the floor by age. What holds him back is his health. This is a Six-Million Dollar Man quote; “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” If he’s able to stay healthy, he could look like a paint-player version of Anthony Davis. If he’s not, and the back continues to trouble him, he could have a career similar to Emeka Okafor.
Zach LaVine is a project player. While he has excellent physical tools in terms of length and elite athletic ability, he has yet to put them on the basketball floor to their full potential. He’s among the quickest, fastest, and most explosive players in the draft, yet he struggles to finish at the rim against NBA length. He is reluctant to attack the basket despite having above average ball-handling ability. His ability to create plays for others is average at best. If he’s seen as a high school project player, the upside is tremendous. The tools, jumpshot, and explosiveness are all there.
Project players are projects for a reason.
It just so happens that they tend to have the highest upside. Project players with great intangibles tend to have better upsides. Kawhi Leonard went a long way. Kobe Bryant went a long way. Andrew Bynum went a long way.
If the Lakers draft one of these players, we hope it doesn’t take so long for them to contribute at a high level.