The 2020 NBA Draft will take place at some point.
The date remains unknown as the NBA and sports leagues around the world continue to try and figure out whether or not a return to play is feasible, but it will happen which means the Los Angeles Lakers will have the opportunity to add a prospect who can help them.
Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers did not give up every possible draft pick in the Anthony Davis trade and do own their first round pick in this year’s draft. Some have called this year’s draft a ‘weak’ class, but that is mainly due to the lack of a true game-changer at the top of it. However, in terms of depth and potential role players who can make a difference on an NBA team, there are plenty, which bodes well for the team.
This time, we look at big men which is undoubtedly a need for the Lakers. The team does not want to play Anthony Davis full-time at center so having a couple of options is a necessity. JaVale McGee has been solid throughout the 2019-20 NBA season and understands his role, but has a player option for next season so his return is no guarantee. The same holds true for Dwight Howard who has been a revelation this season but is also a free agent after this season.
The Lakers have thrived this season in large part due to their size on the floor and physicality so ensuring they keep that going may be a high priority. With that said, here five prospects the Lakers could take a look at in the draft:
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
An absolute physical specimen, the Big 12 Player of the Year did a lot in his senior season to raise his draft stock and show that he can carve out a role for himself in the NBA.
Azubuike’s biggest strengths are on the defensive end. At 7’0″ with a 7’7″ wingspan and a stout 270 pounds, he absolutely stifles opposing bigs on the block. He has the potential to be an elite rim protector (2.0 blocks per game in four years at Kansas) and will control the glass, but is also a great finisher at the rim on offense with good hands down low. He is a solid athlete who gives great effort at all times.
The concerns for Azubuike begin with his limited offensive game. He has little in the way of post moves, usually relying on his strength to overpower defenders which will not always be the case at the next level. He also has no shooting range to speak of and is an awful free throw shooter (41.6 percent career). There will also be questions about his ability to switch on to perimeter players defensively and has little passing skills.
There are obvious concerns but in the right role, he can be a useful player. He was one of the most impactful players in all of college basketball last season and there is a spot for him in the league as a defensive-minded big man who can finish at the rim.
Zeke Nnaji, Arizona
Scouts have been torn on Nnaji and whether his production at Arizona will ultimately translate to the next level. Despite being overshadowed by fellow freshmen who were McDonald’s All-Americans (Josh Green, Nico Mannion), it was Nnaji who emerged as the team’s best player this season.
He did so with his excellent touch on offense, showing the ability to score in the post with jump hooks and has great potential as a mid-range shooter as well. He is a good athlete, but also does not shy away from contact and brings a lot of energy anytime he is on the floor. He is constantly improving and is someone teams can rely on to put in the necessary work.
However, Nnaji still has a lot of improving to do, especially on the defensive end. He has a relatively average wingspan and despite his athleticism, he is not a great rim protector. Offensively, he is severely lacking as a playmaker and his instincts on both ends just are not there.
In the end, what concerns most about Nnaji is that it is unclear what his role will be in the NBA. He is not quite a stretch big man yet but lacks the length and defensive instincts to be a true rim protector and force down low. But his mindset has many willing to bet on him figuring it out and the Lakers could believe he is worth taking a chance on.
Jalen Smith, Maryland
There simply are not many big men who are as offensively talented as Smith, who made great strides across the board in his sophomore season.
Smith has the potential to be a stretch big man in the NBA, hitting 36.8 percent of his three-pointers last season on nearly three attempts per game. He has great touch, but that is not limited to the perimeter as he can finish at the rim with either hand and he is a great screen setter which makes him even more difficult to contain on pick-and-roll/pop situations. He has a high motor and is much improved as a rebounder and shot-blocker.
But there are some physical concerns with Smith as he lacks the strength to really seal off players in the post and is pretty stiff overall which makes it extremely difficult for him to contain players on the perimeter. He is also lacking in the playmaking department with little passing ability to speak of.
His jump in production in Year 2 gives people hope that he will continue to grow. The skills are there, but the physical concerns are real. If he puts in the work in the weight room and improves even marginally with his lateral movement, he could be a steal late in the first round.
Isaiah Stewart, Washington
Stewart was one of the top high school prospects in the nation in 2019 and while he might be projected as a top pick now, those skills that made him so highly touted stand to make him a potential steal if he falls late in the first round as some project.
Stewart is only 6’9″ but makes up for it with a 7’1″ wingspan and at 250 pounds is as solid as can be on the block. He will be able to hold his own against NBA bigs from the beginning and is absolutely relentless on the floor on both ends doing all the little things, crashing the glass, setting screens, and anything else he can do to win. However, he is skilled as well, showing good touch around the rim with the potential to stretch out to the perimeter.
There will remain concerns about his lack of size at the next level and how that will limit him on both ends of the floor. He has struggled to finish against length at times and there are questions about his ability to switch out on guards at the next level. Not to mention whether he will consistently be able to challenge NBA-level athletes at the rim.
Nonetheless, there is talent and desire here which are usually the types of players teams are willing to take a chance on. Stewart is someone with the potential to contribute immediately while continuing to grow his game and possibly take on a bigger role down the line, especially if his jumper continues to develop.
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State
It is ironic that Tillman attended Michigan State as his game is in the mold of Draymond Green with what he brings on both ends of the floor.
On defense, Tillman can do everything. He is undersized at around 6’8″ but is strong enough to hold his own in the post while also being capable of switching on the perimeter and containing wings. He averaged 2.1 blocks and 1.2 steals while controlling the glass with 10.3 rebounds as well. Offensively, he is an excellent playmaker for a big man, averaging 3.0 assists per game and has the potential to pop out and hit jumpers while also finishing at the rim.
The concerns for Tillman are obvious as he is an undersized center even in today’s NBA, and does not necessarily have the athleticism to make up for it. He is also not someone who will consistently be able to get his own basket, though he understands that is not his game.
Tillman is someone who likely will not ever be a star, but his impact will stretch much farther than his numbers may always indicate. He is polished, knows his role, and does all of the little things on both ends of the floor that could lead to a long career. Probably not a first round pick, but he could be worth trading into the second round for.
Others To Watch
Vernon Carey Jr., Duke
Daniel Otoru, Minnesota
Reggie Perry, Mississippi State
Aleksej Pokusevski, Serbia (Olympiacos)
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga
Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State