Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Pau.
No Okafor? No Okafor.
With the second overall pick in the NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers – the greatest big-man franchise of all time – shunned 6-11 center Jahlil Okafor in favor of Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell on Thursday, a move that was surprising, if not stunning, to most.
How could the Lakers not take the big guy, especially given the history of their franchise? What was the thought process with that selection?
“Well, the process was basically we were going to take the best player available,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “And on our board, we all felt that D’Angelo was the best player available. He’s a guard that can run the show. He’s got point guard skills, no doubt about that. Great in the pick-and-roll, which is what this league has kind of evolved into. He can get to the basket, he can shoot the three – you can’t go under on the pick-and-roll with tis kid – and he has a maturity about his self right now and a pace to his game that we feel is a couple of years ahead of where he should be at this particular point. So we felt vey comfortable and confident that this kid would be the right pick for us.”
But do the Lakers make this same pick 10 years ago? Do they take the little guy over the big guy?
“I don’t know,” Scott said. “It depends on which draft you’re talking about.”
Forget about specific players. Ten years ago, having a low-post presence was a tremendous advantage. These days, though, the NBA is about the pick-and-roll, floor spacing, and driving and kicking for the three-point shot. The game is played – and officiated – differently than it was in the early-mid 2000s.
Did that factor into the Lakers’ decision at all?
“The game has definitely changed, there’s no doubt about that,” Scott said. “Point guards right now are so, so, so important to the success of teams. If you look around the league at the great teams in our league, most of them have a fabulous point guard. So the game has changed to a certain extent, but we still feel that you need a guy like this that can help you in so many different ways. You can make a case for either guy. Okafor, we still think is going to be a very good basketball player. But for what we want to do, the direction that we’re headed in, we feel this kid is more ready right now for us to help us get to the next level than Jahlil was.”
So, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Is it fair to assume they believe they can get a big man in free agency?
“Yeah, it’s a fair assumption,” Scott said. “But again, we didn’t base this pick on free agency. I wish the league was a little bit different where you could do the free agency first and you can go out and get guys and then, boom, you know exactly what you need in the draft. But it’s not that way. We took what we felt was the best player available and we’ll deal with the other consequences later. But it does turn out that we took a guard – we feel the best guard in the draft – and arguably one of the best players in the draft. And yeah, you got a bunch of big guys in the free-agent market that we can go after.”