All Ball Sports: Lakers shoot an air ball in NBA draft
by Paul Teetor
When the Golden State Warriors won their fourth NBA title in the last eight years last week, it set the stage for the annual NBA Draft Thursday night. The draft is the lifeblood of the NBA. Once a year, 60 of the very best college, and international players are selected by the 30 NBA teams. The lucky teams select guys who go on to great careers. The rest select players who turn out to range from dud to dynamite. The higher the draft pick, the more likely they are to become a star.
But the Warriors were living proof that you don’t always need high lottery picks to become champions. Their best player, sniper supreme Stephen Curry, was drafted 7th overall. Their second best player, deadeye marksman Klay Thompson, was drafted 11th overall. And their third best player, foul-mouthed pain-in-the-butt defensive demon Draymond Green, was drafted 35th overall.
That just happened to match the only pick the Lakers had in this draft: 35th overall. While their finish out of the playoffs last season entitled them to the eighth overall pick, they were forced to give it up to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the horrible-in-hindsight summer 2019 trade that brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles in exchange for three Lakers future draft picks and its best young players in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart.
But the Lakers, always wallowing in boatloads of money from their overpriced courtside seats and privileged position as the NBA’s flagship franchise, managed to buy their way into the second round and obtained the 35th overall pick.
The Lakers have a lot of holes on their roster, but their one most glaring need was for outside shooting, someone who could actually make a shot once LeBron James or Russell Westbrook penetrated and passed the ball outside. Davis is not a good outside shooter, and Westbrick is one of the worst outside shooters in the entire league. The need for an accurate marksman was clear as the view from Catalina on a summer’s day.
So who do the Lakers “management team” of owner Jeannie Buss, General Manager Rob Pelinka and advisors Kurt and Linda Rambis choose with their one and only draft pick? Someone named Max Christie, who played one year at Michigan State and shot a putrid 31 percent from 3-point range.
Now remember, the 3-point line in college is only 20 feet, 9 inches from the basket, as opposed to 23 feet and 9 inches in the NBA. So a guy like Christie who was a poor three-point shooter in college projects as an awful three-point shooter in the pros.
This was a crazy, inexplicable draft pick that was made even worse because the Lakers passed on a 19-year-old dynamo named Jaden Hardy, who was taken just two picks later.
But Pelinka had a glib explanation when the Laker’s pick was universally panned: “I really think he’s going to turn into a really good shooter,” Pelinka said. “He’s got just a beautiful touch on the ball. Great arch and rotation on his shot.”
In other words, forget what the analytics say. Pelinka gave him the eye test and he knows better than what all the data shows.
Buss needs to take a hard look at her management team: when the GM is delusional, the team has no hope of ever improving.
The Clippers, meanwhile, at least showed that they are run by a true professional basketball exec in Lawrence Frank. His team is loaded with athletic, sweet-shooting wings like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Terrance Mann and Luke Kennard. Their biggest need was for a big man, someone who could help center Ivaca Zubac on the boards and in guarding the rim. So with the 43rd pick they took 6-foot-10 Moussa Diabate of Michigan, who left college after his outstanding freshman season.
Meanwhile, USC and UCLA each only had only one player drafted. UCLA forward Peyton Watson, a 6-foot-7 McDonald’s All-American, played only one season for the Bruins. But he showed enough athleticism and dogged defensive instincts to be taken by Oklahoma City with the 30th and last pick in the first round. That means he will get a four-year contract, as only first round picks get guaranteed contacts.
Second rounders, like USC’s Isaiah Mobley, who was taken 49th by the Cleveland Cavaliers, are not guaranteed anything except an invitation to training camp and the chance to make the team next fall. But in this special case, the 6-foot-11 Mobley is practically guaranteed to make the team and get a lucrative contract for one simple reason: his brother, 7-footer Evan Mobley, emerged as an immediate star for the Cavaliers last season and finished second in the voting for NBA Rookie of the Year.
In other words, he is a future superstar and the key to the team’s playoff hopes going forward. Drafting his brother in a slot where they were unlikely to get a good player anyway was a smart play by a smart GM, Koby Altman.
The family that plays together stays together.