Lonzo Ball wants the Lakers, but do the Lakers want him? That’s the biggest question heading into the 2017 NBA draft on June 22.
Ball worked out for the Lakers on Wednesday and reiterated his desire to play for his hometown team. The bad news for Ball is that he’s not the only prospect the Lakers are seriously considering with the No. 2 overall pick.
Ball was reportedly a favorite of the Lakers’ previous administration under former GM Mitch Kupchak, according to ESPN’s Chad Ford. Ford now believes there is a “genuine split” within the Lakers’ current regime on who to draft with the second pick. There are two other players Los Angeles is considering: Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox and Kansas wing Josh Jackson.
Jackson has some “strong supporters in the organization,” according to Ford. Lakers president Magic Johnson was also there in person to see Fox school Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16.
Will the Lakers pass on Ball with the second pick? Should they? Let’s break down this rumor.
Jackson and Fox offer greater defensive potential than Ball
The Lakers have two long-term building blocks already in place in guard D’Angelo Russell and wing Brandon Ingram. Both of those players have high offensive ceilings but face some questions defensively. As a team, the Lakers finished No. 30 in defensive efficiency last season.
It makes sense that the Lakers would want to use their No. 2 overall pick to bolster the defense. Jackson in particular is a strong fit if the Lakers want to go that direction.
As I wrote this week, Jackson’s combination of athleticism and defensive versatility makes him an ideal prospect for the modern game. He can switch every screen, guard up to four positions, and quickly turn defense into offense with his nose for the ball.
With Jackson and Ingram entrenched on the wing, the Lakers would have two big swingmen with diversified skill sets. Ingram is longer and has superior shooting ability. Jackson is better athletically and defensively while also offering potential as a slasher and offensive creator.
Fox’s effort in the NCAA tournament against Ball speaks for itself. He offers elite speed and two-way potential at point guard. He’s also viewed as a high-character player who could aide the Lakers’ culture during their rebuild.
Ball remains a special offensive player and is by far the best shooter
Ball is a truly unique prospect. He has great size, impressive shooting range, and the ability to make plays above the rim, but his greatest attribute is his mind. Ball has an elite feel for the game and the type of vision and accuracy as a passer that can’t be taught.
Ball thinks the game two steps ahead. He turned UCLA from an under .500 team to one of the best squads in the country in just one year. Perhaps he can do the same thing to the Lakers.
If Johnson wants to usher in “Showtime” once again, Ball is the obvious choice. He never misses an opportunity to push the pace and plays with a certain flair that should connect with Lakers fans. His other big advantage on both Jackson and Fox? He’s by far the best shooter of the three.
Ball made 80 three-pointers at a 41.2 percent clip at UCLA, showcasing deep range in the process. Fox might be a non-shooter as a rookie in the NBA after making only 17 threes at 24.6 percent during his one season at Kentucky. Jackson closed the year hot from three to finish the season with 34 makes from three at a 37.8 clip, but there are still questions about his shooting ability after he shot just 56.6 percent from the foul line.
Ball would help make Lakers basketball a lot of fun again. The question is whether the defense would be good enough to win games deep into the playoffs.
This should be Ball vs. Jackson. There is no easy answer
The Lakers are going to get a great player with the second pick in this draft no matter who they take. For me, it would come down to Ball vs. Jackson. I honestly don’t know who I would take.
A backcourt of Ball and Russell could be tremendous. The Lakers would have two big guards who can pass, handle, and shoot. Russell could run the pick-and-rolls in the halfcourt and Ball could get the team to push the pace off misses and turnovers. Ball would also help accelerate Ingram’s development by getting him the ball in spots to score. This would give the Lakers a lot of firepower.
Conversely, Jackson is an unrelenting competitor who would give L.A. a Swiss army knife on both ends of the floor. He could guard multiple positions and help force turnovers on defense, while his offense is predicated on attacking the rim and finding open teammates with passes.
It makes sense that the Lakers have a “genuine split” because Ball and Jackson are both great prospects with different strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, this is a good problem for the Lakers to have.