The 2016 NBA Draft has come and gone, and it played out exactly as expected: the first two picks came and went, and then all hell broke loose.
Some international players jumped up, some American players fell, which led to some disheartened looks in the green room. Boston’s glut of picks weren’t as valuable as they thought, and they complained about it after being stuck making more picks than they can ever fit onto their roster. The crying anti-Porzingis kid from last year has been replaced by the “Who is that guy?” Celtics fan, and it’s phenomenal:
Sacramento decided to zig while everyone else was zagging by fielding a lineup of only centers (take that, small-ball!). San Antonio lucked out (again) and grabbed a guy at the end of the first round who probably should have gone 15 picks earlier. Most mock drafts were lit ablaze before we hit double digits in the first round.
It was chaos. Beautiful, glorious chaos.
For the Lakers, all of the discord was just fine. They stayed above the fracas and stuck to their game plan, landing Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the number two overall pick. As talented as LSU’s Ben Simmons is, it’s tough not to be very pleased with Ingram coming to Los Angeles. He’s a perfect fit for the young team, slotting right into the starting small forward position that was vacated by the retiring Kobe Bryant. Lakers coach Luke Walton was thrilled with the pick (via Lakers Nation reporter Serena Winters):
“We got the player that I wanted in the draft. I don’t know if he’s the best or not, but he’s the player I wanted for sure. What he has the potential of doing and what he can already do at his age with his length and skill set is very impressive and unique.”
In an interview with Los Angeles media, Ingram changed the non-committal tone that he had to take prior to the draft and expressed his excitement to go to Los Angeles, sort of like at the end of “The Bachelor” when the prize of the season can finally tell the winner he loves her…let’s just hope that Ingram’s stay lasts longer.
Ingram asserted that his favorite team growing up was the Lakers, and even uttered the magic words “I hope I can be like (Kobe) someday,” which certainly didn’t hurt his standing with Lakers fans.
It was revealed that a second, secret dinner had taken place between Ingram and the Lakers, but this time Julius Randle, Anthony Brown, Larry Nance Jr., D’Angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson all attended in an early attempt to build chemistry (via Lakers.com):
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) June 24, 2016
Ingram expressed his desire to become the best basketball player he can be and then stated the goal of winning Rookie of the Year, which turned the volume up to 11 on the cheers of Lakers fans. As far as first impressions go, Ingram hit it out of the park.
For a Lakers team that wasn’t even sure if they would have a first-round pick, they added what appears to be a great kid with a tremendous work ethic. The Lakers front office deserves some credit for not caving to pressure and trading the pick for a win-now piece, opting instead for a young player who, as GM Mitch Kupchak said, “there is no ceiling” for.
That said, in spite of all the feel-good vibes from the Ingram pick, it’s possible that he was one-upped by 32nd pick Ivica Zubac. The 7’1”, 265-pound Croatian patterns his game after Marc Gasol, who was also selected in the second round by Los Angeles and interviewed by the media shortly after. Zubac grew up a huge Lakers fan and owns the jerseys of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace…and Andrew Bynum.
After admitting to the Bynum jersey, Zubac covered by explaining that it’s under a pile of other clothes, and proud owners of Bynum memorabilia everywhere nodded knowingly.
Zubac also recalled staying up all night to watch Kobe’s final game, which didn’t start until 4 a.m. in Croatia. Even though he had basketball practice just a few hours later, the big man had to watch Bryant’s last hurrah and admitted to Lakers reporter Mike Trudell that he cried like a baby when Bryant scored 60.
He even prayed that teams late in the first round wouldn’t draft him because he wanted to be there when the Lakers picked at 32. Keep in mind that being selected in the first-round brings a guaranteed contract, a luxury that second-round picks don’t get.
You have to love a guy who is praying to not get guaranteed money just so that he can be a Laker.
Zubac plans to come to the NBA right away, which is why teams looking for a draft-and-stash player in the first round passed on him in spite of his talent. If his first interview is any indication, it appears as though the big man will quickly become a favorite in Los Angeles.
With Ingram and Zubac on board, things are looking good for the Lakers moving forward.
The amount of young talent that they have acquired is certainly impressive, but what’s really striking is how well the puzzle pieces all fits together. Here is the team’s projected lineup to date:
Clearly, the team needs a starting center, and that will be a priority in free agency, where the Lakers have over $60 million to spend on targets such as Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford, and Bismack Biyombo. It’s also not known whether restricted free agents Huertas or Black will return, but Clarkson appears to be a lock.
With an average age of just over 23, the Lakers could also use a few veteran leaders to keep the young players focused and show them how to be professionals. Elder statesman Williams relies on creating off the dribble and isolations, so he probably isn’t the best candidate for a role that requires sticking to the script and Young is…well, obviously is not the guy for the job either.
Kupchak will certainly go big-game hunting in free agency, but after knowing where they stand with the impact free agents, expect Kupchak to prioritize veterans who can keep the kids playing together. Players like Brandon Bass, Jared Dudley, and Joakim Noah are all potential targets.
The Lakers, as currently constructed, are not ready to return to contention, but they have something real that they can build upon, with young talent at every position. Free agency starts July 1, and if the team can find a star they may be back in business sooner than anyone expect.
If not, the young players that they have acquired still represent a big step forward in the rebuilding process. It’s the beginning of an exciting new era for the Los Angeles Lakers, and fans will be anxiously awaiting the start of the 2016-2017 season.