Jahlil Okafor’s team won the NCAA title. He was the consensus top prospect in the 2015 draft for the vast majority of the college basketball season, and the Los Angeles Lakers – choosing second overall – have a gaping hole in the middle. The former Duke All-American and the purple-and-gold would be a perfect marriage, right?
Perhaps. But with the draft mere hours away comes news that Los Angeles could go a different direction with the No. 2 pick.
According to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, the Lakers have become enamored with D’Angelo Russell and soured on the prospect of adding Okafor to the fold.
If the Los Angeles Lakers draft Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell on Thursday night, as is the increasing likelihood, it will be for one simple reason.
They believe he is a star.
Although the Lakers respect Jahlil Okafor’s size and skill (his defensive potential, not so much), momentum and consensus have been growing in the front office that Russell, not Okafor, is the special one.
It’s not really so much the shift of the modern game toward the perimeter. This massive decision was always going to be about specific individuals, not the positions they play, and the vibe from Russell has been that he fits the mold of a leader, a winner and a Laker.
This latest tidbit not only runs contrary to longstanding public opinion on the quality of both prospects, but also the most recent reports concerning the Lakers’ likely draftee. Los Angeles was purportedly “locked in” on drafting Okafor less than two weeks ago, and little in the interim suggested that would change.
Until now, of course. Ding also writes that the Lakers’ appreciation for Russell grew after he “channeled Steph Curry’s velvety stroke” in a workout, leading team brass to believe frequent comparisons between the Ohio State product and reigning MVP are “legit.”
Full disclosure: We love Russell. He’s just slightly behind Karl-Anthony Towns on our big board, firmly ahead of Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis and any player others deem the second-best prospect in this class. It’s harder to imagine a player with Russell’s feel, vision and shooting ability failing in the modern NBA than it is developing into a superstar. He’s awesome.
But just like comparisons to LeBron James and Kevin Durant are always irrational, so are those involving Curry. Expecting any player to match the 2015 champion’s merit as a floor general is setting yourself up for disappointment, and that’s even before considering his otherworldly prowess as a shot-maker. He’s arguably the most impactful playmaker in the world for a reason.
Los Angeles shouldn’t draft Russell because he evokes Curry; they should draft him because he checks off most every offensive box a team could reasonably ask of its lead guard. Is that enough for the Lakers to take him over an obvious talent like Okafor? It should be, especially considering the 6-foot-5 Russell could play in the same backcourt as second-round surprise Jordan Clarkson.
We’ll find out if Mitch Kupchack and company agree later tonight.
(Via Bleacher Report)