The 2017 NBA draft is less than a month away and fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are locked in a vigorous debate over who the team should select with the second overall pick. The talent in this draft is considered the deepest in recent memory, so the Lakers will have a number of very good options and the decision is likely to be a difficult one.
The current heavy favorite is local product and former UCLA star Lonzo Ball. While Ball is the likely choice at this point, the team has not yet worked out the top prospects and a lot could change when they do.
The Lakers have many needs that could potentially be met by the players in this draft, so the vetting process is going to be a rigorous one as the front office leaves no stone unturned in examining the options and making the best choice.
One year ago, the top rated prep player in the country, according to recruiting services Rivals and Scout, was not Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, it was a forward from Prolific Prep in Napa, CA by the name of Josh Jackson.
Born in San Diego, Jackson moved to Michigan where he attended high school for two years before returning to Northern California to finish his prep career. Jackson agreed to play college ball at the University of Kansas where he left his mark as a freshman.
He finished his lone college season averaging 16.3 points per game, grabbing 7.4 rebounds, and dishing out 3.0 assists to go along with 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks. It was enough to earn him Second Team All American honors from Sporting News as well as being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
Jackson is 20, and at 6’8”, and around 200 pounds, he is considered a freakish, world class athlete with a very high basketball I.Q. He has blinding speed and excellent leaping ability for a big man, and he would fit very well in the up-tempo offense Lakers coach Luke Walton is trying to install.
Oh, and one more thing – Jackson is considered by most observers to be the best wing defender of all college prospects entering this year’s draft and one of the best to enter the NBA in a long while.
It is no secret that defense, especially on the wings, is one of the Lakers biggest needs to fill this summer. It has been reported that Jackson has key fans inside the Lakers’ organization who know how critical it is for the team to improve its defense if they are going to win more games and eventually compete for a high playoff seed.
Jackson is currently rated by many as the third best prospect in this summer’s draft. In terms of potential, however, he is first or second on many lists. The prospect of his joining the Lakers could change when he works out for teams in the next month, as his NBA ceiling is thought to be very high on both ends of the court.
Most likely Jackson will be available for the Lakers to draft at number two and there are two main questions the team will need to answer in making their decision.
First, there is a question of Jackson’s fit with the purple and gold given the current roster. His natural position is small forward, which is already manned by Brandon Ingram, last summer’s number two selection in the draft who most fans assume will be the centerpiece of the team’s continuing rebuilding
The Lakers also have another small forward under contract for the next three years, Luol Deng, who is the team’s highest paid player. If Jackson’s skill and upside potential are determined by the Lakers brass to be too great to ignore, Ingram could move to shooting guard, where he played a great deal this past season. This would allow him to handle the ball more anyway, which the coaching staff might actually prefer.
The other question about Jackson is his character. Last December, he was arrested outside a bar following an altercation with a female basketball player. He is on probation which requires that he attend anger management classes and refrain from drinking or taking drugs for a year.
If there is one thing Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka has emphasized in recent weeks, it is that he only wants players with “high character” on the team. The incident last December raises a question about Jackson’s character, and any form of aggressive conduct directed towards a woman raises a red flag. This makes his in-person meetings with the Lakers prior to the draft of critical importance.
The Lakers plan to get up close and personal with Jackson, Ball, and other top prospects in the next four weeks. It is no exaggeration to suggest that such meetings could have a major impact on who is wearing purple and gold next season. The Lakers need a point guard who can get everyone involved and make them better, but they also have a very serious need to improve their perimeter defense.
If the Lakers do not make a major trade this summer, which is looking more and more likely, the young core will have one more year to prove itself.
By playing Jordan Clarkson off the bench for most of last season, the coaching staff wasted the chance to see if he and Russell can thrive together over time as a starting tandem. The Lakers could do worse than teaming Russell and Clarkson in the backcourt for one full season to see once and for all if it can work. The team could also slide Ingram over to the shooting guard position.
In the end, it may come down whether the team elects to prioritize defense or ball movement. If it is the former, then Jackson should be the pick. If ball movement and creating easier shots for others is the key, then it will be Ball.
No matter where he lands, Josh Jackson has the potential to become an NBA All-Star. Should the Lakers pass on him, most view Phoenix as a perfect landing spot at fourth overall as the 76ers (who hold the 3rd pick) already have multiple combo forwards who aren’t great shooters. Jackson is deserving of a very close look by the Lakers in the next month.