Lakers actual 2017 pick: Lonzo Ball; Should have been: Jayson Tatum
Whoo boy. This one hurts.
The selection of Ball (which seemed willed into existence by Lonzo’s chatterbox father) was not without merit. Ball promised to be a multipositional defender, excellent rebounder, unselfish passer, and good-enough shooter.
He showed almost all that in his rookie season (although the three-point shot took a few years to develop), but he also showed his eventual undoing: an inability to stay healthy. He’s never delivered on the star hopes people had for him, but he’s become one of the best role players in the league — when he plays.
Ball has suited up for 50, 45, 54, 55, 35, and 0 games in his NBA seasons. His two healthiest years were the two cut short by the pandemic. It’s a bummer for someone who seems like a genuinely good dude.
The Lakers, however, traded him after his second year, along with Ingram and others, for AD, and we know how that turned out. Between Ingram and Ball’s health, it’s hard to say that the Lakers made the wrong choice. But they could’ve made an even better one: drafting Jayson Tatum.
Tatum has a longstanding obsession with Kobe Bryant and reportedly hoped to be a Laker before they chose local legend Ball. Boston executive Danny Ainge coveted Tatum, and knowing that the Lakers would choose Ball, traded the #1 overall pick (which ended up being Markelle Fultz; at least the Lakers dodged that bullet) to Philadelphia to get his man Tatum at #3.
Tatum, of course, has become one of the faces of the league. The Celtics are perennial conference finalists thanks to the do-everything wing, who is starting to garner MVP votes.
If you thought Booker would’ve looked good in Lakers colors, imagine how Tatum, who sports a Kobe Bryant tattoo and was exceptionally close to the Los Angeles icon before his untimely passing, would’ve shined. He’s the one player who might make Lakers fans re-think whether the Anthony Davis trade would’ve been worth it.