Lakers Road Back to Relevance: The 2016 Draft Class


In recent years, the one thing the Lakers front office has done quite well is choose players in the draft.

Although the first and second entries in this series have emphasized areas in which the organization has behaved rather foolishly, it is hard to argue with the success they have had in the draft. Many fans would have preferred Jahlil Okafor over D’Angelo Russell, but his defensive shortcomings and off-court issues are making the Lakers choice seem increasingly wise.

Selecting Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in last year’s draft was a huge success, and the players selected more recently have showed promise as well. Unfortunately, the Lakers don’t have many more picks to work with, with two of their next three first-rounders likely being sent elsewhere.

For a team struggling its way to a 3-18 start, keeping their pick this year is absolutely critical to their future success. This will only happen if the pick falls within the top three in the draft lottery. Without this pick, the Lakers outlook becomes far more bleak, with little opportunity for significant improvement in the off-season.

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Because of this, a mid-season trade to acquire either draft picks or young players would be a wise move on the part of the Lakers. Moving players like Lou Williams or Brandon Bass for long-term assets could put the team in a much better situation moving forward.

Still, the most important part of the off-season remains the fate of the Lakers pick. For the purposes of this article, it will be assumed that the Lakers will retain their pick and select in the top three of the coming draft.

This article will break down the players who would be in consideration to join the Lakers, and will examine their fit with the team as well as their potential short-term and long-term impacts on the franchise.

Ben Simmons

Landing Ben Simmons may be the single best way for the Lakers to return to relevance. An incredibly athletic player with impressive ball skills and passing, Simmons also possesses the size to play almost any position.

Last measured at 6′ 10″ with a 7′ wingspan and a 41″vertical, Simmons is actually taller than most of the players the Lakers have used at the power forward and center this year, and is likely to grow.

Nov 19, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers forward Ben Simmons (25) prepares to shoot the ball against the South Alabama Jaguars during the first half at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Due to his elite combination of size and skill, Simmons has already drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson and Lebron James. It’s obvious that having a player of that caliber and versatility would be a huge step forward for a Lakers organization that is about to see their last transcendent star hang it up for good.

Despite his size, Simmons fits best with the Lakers as a small forward. A dominant presence on defense, Simmons has the potential to be able to lock down the opponents best player regardless of position. His athleticism and length allows him to serve as a secondary rim protector in rotating situations, which is something that the Lakers completely lack.

His explosiveness and speed make him a great running mate for Clarkson and Russell, while his play making will allow for creative plays involving him and fellow skilled big man Julius Randle. Although he does lack a jump shot, the Lakers can afford to be patient with him while he strives to reach his full potential, but they need a coach who will allow for this.

The immensity of that potential was put on full display recently,  when Ben Simmons scored 43 points, all while securing 14 boards and dishing out 7 assists. This performance was the most impressive in recent college history, and truly sets him apart from even highly touted prospects like Andrew Wiggins.

Brandon Ingram 

Although Ben Simmons is the Lakers top option in this draft, Duke’s Brandon Ingram would be quite a consolation prize. Another incredibly long wing, Brandon Ingram stands at 6′ 9.5″, but with a ludicrous 7′ 3″ wingspan. More of a scorer than Simmons, Ingram entered college known for his smooth jumper. Despite struggling to begin the season, Ingram has played very well in his last few games and will continue to impress.

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Ingram has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant due to both his physical profile and play style. Because of his slender build, it may take Ingram some time to adjust to the NBA game, particularly on the defensive end. However, once that adjustment is made, Ingram should be able to use his length and athleticism to be a uniquely disruptive defender.

Offensively Ingram should adjust much more quickly. A capable shooter and finisher, Ingram could give the Lakers a number one option on offense for years to come.

Placed with the Lakers young core, Brandon Ingram could develop quickly alongside skilled play makers like Russell and Randle. Although there is no guarantee he will become a superstar, Ingram’s unique skill and athleticism make him the clear choice at number two for the Lakers.

Jaylen Brown

Although Jaylen Brown may ultimately not be drafted in the top three, his particular skill set and strengths are a good enough fit with the team that the Lakers should give him strong consideration. A strong, athletic wing in the vein of Justise Winslow or Stanley Johnson, Brown’s defense and athleticism could help the struggling Lakers greatly.

Nov 13, 2015; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears forward Jaylen Brown (0) shoots against the Rice Owls in the first period at Haas Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports Cal won 97-65.

Jaylen Brown has also shot the ball surprisingly well so far this season, flashing more offensive potential than many expected. Even though Brown may not have the same atmospheric ceiling as the first two players on this list, his physical attributes still make him a safe pick.

Skal Labissiere

This skilled big man may be in the conversation for the number one overall pick by the time of the draft. A big man who moves well and can shoot with some range, Labissiere has drawn comparisons to players like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. While he may not prove to be at the level of either of those players, Labissiere’s athleticism and size are intriguing.

The Kentucky big man’s ultimate draft positition will be determined by his play this season, but he most likely will be in play for the Lakers in the top three. Although Ben Simmons remains the obvious choice if the Lakers end up with the number one pick in the draft, Labissiere will definitely be in consideration at the two or three.

This off-season, the Lakers future will once again be left in the hands of chance. Securing the number one pick could speed the Lakers along on their rebuild, while losing the pick could spell doom for the franchise for years to come.

Next: D'Angelo Russell Takes Shot At Kobe After Demotion

Unfortunately, the most compelling viewing this season will once again be watching the draft lottery, desperately hoping that luck falls on their side.