The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves as one of the top teams in the NBA. After six consecutive seasons missing the playoffs, the Lakers finished the regular season with a 52-19 record and in first place in the Western Conference. While the first year of Lebron James with the Lakeshow was a Hollywood soap opera, the front office cleaned up their act and general manager Rob Pelinka swung the trade for one of the best players in the NBA, Anthony Davis. After missing out on free agent Kawhi Leonard, Pelinka managed to sign other key players, including Danny Green, Dwight Howard, and Avery Bradley to pair alongside King James. The collection of veterans has thrived under first-year head coach Frank Vogel.
Davis is a free agent after this season, but it is likely he re-signs with the Lakers. However, the team does have a number of free agents, including Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Javale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters, Howard, and Bradley. It’s unlikely that the Lakers will be able to re-sign everyone, and probably will have some holes to fill.
While the Lakers don’t have many weaknesses, there are some areas where they could improve. They rank 22nd in turnovers per game with 15.2, and are 21st in the league with a 3-point percentage of 34.9. They also rank third from last in free-throw percentage. Three of the four players who average at least one three per game and shoot better than 36 percent from deep (Quinn Cook, Caldwell-Pope, Green, and Bradley) are free agents, with Green being the exception. Two of the players from that group (Bradley and Caldwell-Pope), along with Davis, lead the team in free-throw percentage. Size is one of the Lakers’ strengths, as they rank first in blocked shots per game; however, the three team leaders in that category (Davis, McGee, and Howard) are among the group that needs to be re-signed after the season, which could influence the team to look for a big man in the draft.
In addition to a big man, the Purple and Gold will be looking for wings that can shoot as potential replacements for either Bradley or Caldwell-Pope.
Lastly, much of the 2019-20 campaign had James running the offense, and he led the league in assists (10.2 per game). The backup point guard duties have been mainly shared by Alex Caruso and Rondo, both of whom are not ideal backups, meaning a reliable ball-handling guard is also a need that the team could potentially address in the draft.
With what will be a late first-round pick (28th overall), here are some players that might be suiting up alongside King James next season.
Jalen Smith (PF, Maryland)
Projected Draft Range: 15-35
In his sophomore season, a bulked-up Smith thrived as Maryland’s starting center, averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, and being named to the first-team All-Big Ten team and the All-Defensive team. “Sticks” finished in the top 10 of the conference for numerous categories, including points per game, rebound percentage, block percentage, and true-shooting percentage (62.6). He ranked at the 96th percentile for overall points per possession this season, with the majority of his baskets coming from post-ups, rolls and cuts to the basket, put-backs, and pick-and-pop plays. The fact that his jump shot from beyond the arc developed from 26.8 percent his freshman year to 36.8 percent his sophomore year is an added plus. Smith’s ability to knock down outside shots and his mobility for his size (6-foot-10, with 7-foot-2 wingspan) would give the Lakers the option to use the youngster at power forward or center.
Malachi Flynn (PG, SDSU)
Projected Draft Range: 20-40
Flynn was the best player on a San Diego State team that went 30-2 this season. A Washington State transfer, Flynn averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.5 rebounds, and earned Mountain West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors, plus a second-team All American selection. The 22-year-old also led the MWC in assist and in steal percentage. A dynamic off-the-dribble scorer, Flynn ranked at the 81st percentile for points per possession (PPP) on jumpers off the bounce, while making 37 percent of his threes, and shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line. The junior has elusive quickness and excellent ball control, and thrived in the pick-and-roll scenarios, ranking at the 96th percentile for PPP. Like many prospects on this list, there are concerns with Flynn’s size; he stands at six feet and one inch, which could impede him at the next level, especially on the defensive end. However, Flynn has shown great capabilities at both ends of the court, and could be a great facilitator and secondary scorer for a veteran-filled team like the Lakers.
Tre Jones (PG, Duke)
Projected Draft Range: 20-40
The sophomore guard showed out last season. Jones was named ACC Player and Defensive Player of the Year. The Blue Devil averaged 16.2 points along with 6.4 assists. With the often-injured Rondo being a free agent and 34 years old, Jones is the type of high-floor prospect that could provide valuable minutes as a rookie. He is a great playmaker and on-court facilitator, finishing his career as Duke’s all-time leader in assist-turnover ratio (A/T) with 2.87. The 6-foot-3 Jones enjoyed success while spot-up, shooting 43 percent in those scenarios. In transition, he excelled as a facilitator and scorer combined, ranking at the 83rd percentile for PPP plus assists. He is not a go-to scorer, but will certainly benefit playing alongside players like James and Davis. Jones’ high basketball IQ, passing skills, and his defensive abilities make him a viable candidate for the Purple and Gold.
Vernon Carey (C, Duke)
Projected Draft Range: 25-50
Carey joins his teammate Jones on the list. The powerful Duke center stands at 6 feet, 10 inches and 270 pounds. This season, he averaged 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Once again, looking at who could leave the Lakers via free agency is key. Los Angeles does rank first in blocks (6.6 blocks per game), however, two of their shot blockers McGee and Howard are both free agents. Someone who can step in and fill the shoes of one of those two bigs could be Carey. He had the top field-goal percentage in the ACC at 57.7. The majority of his points came from inside the paint via put-backs and post-up plays. He also added a chunk of points from the free-throw line, being fouled on 25 percent of his possessions. Carey muscled his way through the competition at Duke, but his style will have to change at the NBA level. He will need to develop a consistent jump shot, and prove that he can defend on the perimeter. However, only 19 years old, Carey has time to expand his all-around game.
Cassius Winston (PG, Michigan State)
Projected Draft Range: 30-55
The Michigan State guard played four years under Tom Izzo, and is one of the more experienced and battle-tested players in this year’s draft. He is undersized for a point guard at 6 feet, one inch, but he does show a lot of grit in his play. Winston averaged 18.3 points and 5.9 assists in his senior year. During his tenure at Michigan State, the 22-year-old shot 43.0 percent from beyond the arc, displaying a quick release and good elevation on his shots. This season, the former Big Ten Player of the Year ranked at the 90th percentile for off-the-dribble shots and at the 97th percentile for catch-and-shoot attempts. Also, the Big Ten’s all-time career assist leader (890), Winston has a high basketball IQ with great on-court vision. He could thrive on a team filled with veterans such as James and Davis, especially setting up bigs in the pick and roll. However, the concerns with Winston are his lack of size and defensive abilities. If he is able to be a serviceable defender, he could potentially be a steal in the draft due to his offensive skill set and intangibles.
Elijah Hughes (W, Syracuse)
Projected Draft Range: 30-55
The Lakers need outside shooting, and though the raw numbers might not show it, Hughes could be a great asset to the team. The 6-foot-6 wing doesn’t excel in any one particular area, but he is an all-around producer, with a sweet jump shot and a strong, athletic build. As a junior this season, Hughes averaged 19 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists. The 22-year-old earned a first-team All ACC selection while leading the conference in scoring. He doesn’t attack the rim often, but he is very effective shooting off the bounce with stepbacks and fadeaways — this season, he ranked at the 72nd percentile for PPP on jumpers off the dribble. He also proved to be a solid passer, recording an assist-turnover ratio of 1.5. Lastly, he proved his toughness by playing 37 minutes per game and not missing a start, despite dealing with several injuries throughout the season. The main concern is his career 3-point percentage of 34.2, but in more of a supporting role last season, which he will undoubtedly have in the pros, he made 37 percent of his 3s, and ranked at 80th percentile for PPP as a jump shooter in the half court. With a team like the Lakers, getting open looks should not be a problem for Hughes.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.