Thursday, August 21, 2014
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Dante Exum

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Joel Embiid -- Credit: Getty Images

Exclusively for LakerNation.com, draft analyst Ed Isaacson (@NBADraftBlog) of NBADraftBlog.com ranks the best options for the Lakers as Thursday’s NBA Draft nears.

The purple and gold will select #7 and while there was disappointment of a non-top three pick, there are players available that could give the Lakers great value at the slot.  Here is the breakdown of nine prospects:

1. Joel Embiid (C) – We knew about the back issues and know there is the stress fracture in his foot. Even with those issues, Embiid is by far the best big man prospect in this draft. He is still very raw, but could provide a presence on the defensive end as a rebounder and rim protector early in his career. If Embiid somehow falls to the Lakers, they need to take this risk with a post-Kobe rebuild looming anyway.

2. Marcus Smart (PG) – Many chastised Smart for going back to school for his sophomore year, and though there were a few hiccups during the season, he did come out as a better player. Smart is a strong point guard with the ability to bully his way to the basket, but also the vision to find open teammates. He rebounds well for his size and he is one of the top 2 or 3 on-ball defenders in this draft. Perimeter shooting needs to be more consistent, but Smart is the type of young point guard a team can build around.

3. Dante Exum (SG/PG) – The young Australian made his name in International competitions, and his size and athleticism will be attractive to many teams, including the Lakers. He is a skilled player on both ends of the floor, and though his perimeter shooting can be inconsistent, he should be fine long-term. His size and speed allow him to gaurd multiple positions and he has shown good defensive instincts. The big question is whether he can actually play the point in the NBA. Nothing I’ve seen shows me he can be a strong decision-maker, but he may still have it in him down the road.

4. Julius Randle (PF) – A big-bodied, but athletic, power forward, Randle has the ability to overpower players in the low post, and score with surprising touch around the basket. Randle is dominant with his left-hand, but he isn’t very good with his right, and by the end of last season, teams understood this and played him to take away his left. He is quick after rebounds on both ends of the floor, and though he isn’t a great defender, he has the body to defend in the post and the athleticism to defend the perimeter. He just needs someone to get him to focus more on the defensive end.

5. Noah Vonleh (PF) – Vonleh has good length and above-average athleticism, but is still developing most parts of his game. On offense, Vonleh has the size to be a good low post option, but he doesn’t have the aggressiveness or strength to consistently fight for position. He prefers to play more on the perimeter, where he showed good ability to knock down long jumpers. Vonleh can be a good rim protector, and he is already a pretty good defender for his age. He is just 18 years old and still has a lot of potential, though there is still much of his game yet to be seen.

6. Doug McDermott (SF) – The country’s top scorer, McDermott will give any team an instant long-range threat, as well as a player who understand spacing well and how to move the ball to open teammates. McDermott is also a crafty scorer around the basket and even against longer players, he finds ways to get his shot. While not particularly strong, McDermott can be a good rebounder and post defender. His perimeter defense can be a problem because of a lack of speed, but he knows how to play angles well and he will find adjustments after some time in the league. Either way, he is the player on this list most ready to contribute right away to the Lakers.

7. Elfrid Payton (PG) – Many might not know Payton, but he was one of the best guards in college basketball this past season at Louisiana-Lafayette. He has great speed, good ball-handling skills, and a very strong basketball IQ. Payton is very good at beating his man off the dribble or using high screens, and once he gets into the lane, he is good at finding open teammates after drawing defenders. He is a creative finisher around the basket, though a bit wild at times, and he is very good at drawing contact. Payton is a strong perimeter defender and rebounds very well for his size. Like Smart, Payton has trouble with his jumper, though Payton’s form needs a lot of work from long-range.

8. Aaron Gordon (PF) – Gordon is an athletic freak and tough competitor on the court. He is a very good defender, capable of guarding multiple positions and in the post or on the perimeter, and he uses his athleticism well to get after rebounds. Gordon’s offense is really limited to scoring off of offensive rebounds or getting out in transition for what usually end up as highlight reel dunks. His shooting isn’t very good, and he is a mess at the free throw line, but in the right system, a team can find a way to get him good looks around the basket. I’m just not sure if that is the direction the Lakers want to go in for the future.

9. Zach LaVine (SG/PG) – LaVine, like Gordon, is an athletic freak, but he may even more raw than Gordon. LaVine’s offense was limited to some three-pointers, where he was an average shooter, and getting baskets in transition, though most times he leaked out instead of trying to rebound and beat both teams down the floor. Word is that LaVine believes he is a point guard, and while being a decent ball-handler, he has never shown that he can make the decisions necessary to play the position in college, let alone the NBA. LaVine is as long term a project as there is in this draft, and the Lakers are even considering picking him at #7, someone should be fired.

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A big thank you to Ed Isaacson for taking the time to breakdown the prospects that could be available to the Lakers with the #7 pick.  For additional breakdown, follow Isaacson on Twitter @NBADraftBlog and visit NBADraftBlog.com

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Sam Forencich/NBAe/Getty Images

While all the attention was on the return of former Lakers center Dwight Howard to STAPLES Center during Wednesday night’s matchup with the Rockets, another non-Lakers player also made headlines.

One of the top NBA prospects this year, Australian point guard Dante Exum, spent some time in the stands at STAPLES Center during Wednesday’s game after arriving in Los Angeles just a few days ago.

Exum, a combo-guard with a similar physique to Kobe Bryant‘s high school days, has already made it clear that he wants to play for one team–the Los Angeles Lakers. His interest was confirmed recently in an interview with Bleacher Report, stating that Exum wants to play for the Lakers.

Rumors continued to swirl after Exum signed with Kobe Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, in January.

While Exum wants to play for the Lakers, uncertainty remains as to whether the Lakers feel the same way about him, especially with a strong 2014 NBA Draft class expected.

With the Lakers destined for a lottery draft pick this season, the 2014 NBA Draft is also expected to include the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari ParkerMarcus Smart and Joel Embiid.

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Michael Klein

While there is sure to be plenty of discussion as to who the Lakers will select in June’s NBA draft, there is one prospect who is already envisioning himself in the purple and gold next season.

Australian point guard phenom Dante Exum in a recent interview to Bleacher Report, expressed his interest in joining the Lakers next season:

“Definitely L.A. is one option,” Exum told Bleacher Report. “I’ve been to L.A. many times and I love the city, and it is a great city. If I get the opportunity to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers, I know I’ll have love for the city. And their fans are loyal and they have the rivalry with the Clippers. But just to be in an environment where you have a great player like Kobe, where you have a mentor in a way as a rookie, I think that would be the best option.”

It should be noted that the 18-year-old Exum recently choose Rob Pelinka as his agent. Pelinka represents Kobe Bryant and that was one of the driving reasons behind choosing him as an agent.

“I just want to know his work ethic, what he’s done to be where he is at the moment, because he’s definitely in the talk of one of the greatest of all-time,” Exum said of Bryant. “So I want to just pick his brain, what he’s done, how he’s adapted over the years and still been able to average over 20 points in the league.”

An interesting aspect to keep an eye on is how Exum and Pelinka handle the draft process. As Jabari Davis of Basketball Insiders notes, it could be a similar situation that Kobe Bryant went through during his draft process when his representatives told teams they would regret drafting him. Exum could be in position to gain leverage in who he goes to by threatening to sign with teams overseas and not play for the team he is drafted for a few years.

At 6’6″, Exum’s size and athleticism has scouts raving about his potential. At his young age, it could be 2-3 years until Exum makes an impact in the NBA but with a potential mentor in Kobe for the next two years, it could be the perfect situation for him.

Below is the preseason scouting video for Exum from Draft Express:

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