The Los Angeles Lakers currently have the second-worst record in the NBA and with the team’s draft pick only top-three protected, it would be excellent for the franchise if they were able to hold on to it. As it stands now, the team has a 55 percent chance to keep the pick.
This time of year, however, is all about college basketball as NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has gotten underway. The vast majority of top draft prospects are taking part although arguably the top player in the draft, Ben Simmons, won’t be seen as his LSU Tigers failed to qualify for the tournament.
Even without Simmons, there are still a number of players worth watching over the weekend. Duke’s Brandon Ingram is viewed by many as equal or even superior to Simmons in a number of ways. Additionally, Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, Utah center Jakob Poeltl, and Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield could also be potential future Lakers, especially if the team falls to the third slot in the draft.
The Lakers have the weekend off so there is no reason for everyone’s eyes to not be on March Madness. So we asked our panel of experts which player they will be paying attention to most during the tournament. This is what they had to say:
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): Brandon Ingram.
With Ben Simmons not in the NCAA Tournament, Ingram is the next in line. The Duke star stands to benefit the most from the absence of Simmons as he can showcase why he should be taken with the number overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
The one thing that sets these two draft prospects apart is Ingram’s ability to stretch the defense. Simmons may have the playmaking ability with his passing skills, but Ingram’s shooting is far better in comparison and could prove to be more valuable on the NBA level.
Ingram’s free-throwing shooting leaves something to be desired with the prospect shooting 67.5 percent from the charity stripe this year. Simmons is slightly worse at the line at 67 percent, but Ingram can be a threat from deep, shooting 41.4 percent from three-range for the Blue Devils this season.
In Duke’s first game of the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils got past UNC Wilmington with ease. Ingram finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and a steal. The top prospect split his three-point attempts hitting one of two.
The Blue Devils will now advance to the second round to face Yale. Ingram could extend his college career and make the debate over Simmons-or-Ingram that much more interesting moving forward.
Alan Huerta (@Alan_Huerta24): The player I was most looking forward to watching in the NCAA Tournament at first was Denzel Valentine. But due to Michigan State being knocked out in the first round in what many are calling the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history that changed pretty quickly.
Right behind him though was Brandon Ingram, the freshman sensation out of Duke. For obvious reasons Laker fans have been keeping an eye on the 18-year-old since there’s a strong chance the Blue Devil may be suiting up in purple and gold next season if they do indeed keep their top-3 protected pick.
What I’m interested in seeing in Ingram isn’t just the numbers he puts up across the board (since he’s one of the best talents out in the entire tournament). Instead, I want to see how far an 18-year-old can lead the defending National Champions that aren’t as deep or as talented of a team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Duke in the past.
The further they get in the tournament, the more pressure will be put on Ingram to rise to the occasion; which I’m hoping will take his game to another level. With all the talk that Ben Simmons may not be the consensus No. 1 overall pick, this has opened the door for Ingram to make his case that his name should be the first one called by Adam Silver on June 23.
I don’t know about you guys, but a 6’9” small forward that is long, can play on both ends and score at will, sounds like a better fit for this young Laker core than Simmons does to me. In the end, I’m paying attention to what Lakers Nation likes to call him, a #FutureLaker. I’m hoping Ingram and Coach K can make it back-to-back National Championships for the Duke Blue Devils.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): The obvious answer would be Duke’s Brandon Ingram, but I’ve watched enough of him during the season to know what I’m getting from him.
The big question regarding the Lakers draft is what will they do if they drop to the third spot. There are a ton of options if that does happen, but the most intriguing one for me would be Utah’s Jakob Poeltl.
The Lakers sorely need an upgrade at the center position and Poeltl would fit in perfectly. He is a legit seven-footer who runs the floor extremely well, controls the boards, and can protect the rim. He is also an offensive threat, averaging just under 18 points on 65 percent shooting from the field.
Thanks to a slew of upsets in their region, Utah is in prime position to make a run to the Elite Eight or Final Four which could mean a huge stage for Poeltl to boost his stock.
Of course, with the Lakers having drafted so well later in the draft, and owning their second-round pick, I’m also intrigued in a couple of potential guys who could be in play there like Maryland’s Melo Trimble and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson. But it is Poeltl at the top of the list for me in this tournament.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): Just about every draft board out there has the top three prospects for this year’s NBA Draft as Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Dragan Bender. The Lakers only keep their pick if it falls in the top three selections, so it makes sense to focus on those players. Unfortunately, of the three Ingram is the only one participating in the NCAA Tournament, so he’s the guy that I’m paying the most attention to.
It’s certainly disappointing that Simmons didn’t make the tournament, but Ingram is certainly an intriguing prospect for the Lakers to end up with should they be fortunate enough to hang on to their pick. His shooting ability and length would allow him to slide perfectly into the opening at small forward left by Kobe Bryant’s retirement, giving the Lakers a young, talented player to build their future around at every position except for center.
While Ingram and Simmons appear to be a lock to be drafted with the top two picks, Bender’s hold on the third spot is much more tenuous. As such I’m keeping an eye on players like Jaylen Brown, Henry Ellenson, and Jamal Murray as well, although none of them have me as intrigued as much aS Ingram does.
Nathaniel Lastrapes (@NathanielP2): I am skeptically hopeful that the Lakers will retain their pick, and I have been hesitant to get too excited about both Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram this season. However, since Simmons is not going to be in the tournament, my attention will be on Ingram out of Duke.
I enjoy watching Coach Krzyzewski’s team play every year in the tournament, and Duke is always churning out solid NBA players. Ingram intrigues me because he would be a perfect fit for the Lakers’ current roster. However, Ingram is not ready to help the team win now.
The Lakers, should they finish with the second-worst record in the NBA, have a 55.8 percent chance to keep their top-3 protected pick, and only a 19.9 percent chance of earning the No. 1 overall pick. If they miraculously land the top pick, Simmons is a no-brainer to draft, but if they have to settle for Ingram, I would not be upset about that.
There also is the chance that we’ll see a player have a breakout performance in the NCAA Tournament that will raise their draft value, a la D’Angelo Russell, so the Lakers front office will certainly be on top of their scouting game. Regardless of who they draft, I will just be happy if the Lakers retain their pick.