Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Zach LaVine

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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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Zach LaVine
Image courtesy of the Pac-12 Conference

NBA draft prospect Zach LaVine spoke with Laker Nation’s Johnny Navarrette in an exclusive interview to discuss the draft process experience, comparisons to Russell Westbrook, and also shared his thoughts about growing up a Lakers fan, Kobe Bryant, and the current state of basketball in Los Angeles. Be sure to watch LaVine’s pre-draft workout below, presented by PureSweat and Laker Nation’s own Sam Limon.

JN: Since leaving UCLA, how has the entire draft process experience been for you? Competing against the best young talent in the world, meeting with teams and media? 

ZL: “It’s been a lot of fun, just enjoying the process.  You only get to go through it once or twice so it is definitely something that is enjoyable. I’m going in it full-hearted, very confident, and just ride through this process.”

JN: There are some who feel you will be a shooting guard at the next level and some who feel you will be a point guard, what position do you see yourself playing in the NBA?

ZL: “A lot of people haven’t seen me play point guard yet so they can’t really play judgment on to it until they see me in person.  I feel like I have been proving in these workouts that I can play and compete at the point guard position.  I definitely feel comfortable with the ball in my hands but I am also not scared to shoot or score the ball as well because I feel that comes easy to me. I’m a player first so wherever the coach needs me to play at I’ll do it but I definitely feel comfortable with the ball in my hand.”

JN: Do you feel that you are underrated in this draft?

ZL: “I wouldn’t say underrated.  I’m going up and competing against dudes everyday, holding my own, and I feel like my stock keeps rising because I’ve been doing very well against everybody else, stacking up against the competition.  I’ve been doubted a couple times so I guess you can say I’m underrated but I really don’t let outside voices get to me or anything like that.  I know what I can do, I’m a very confident person, and I put in the hard work so I don’t let any of those distractions really mess with me.”

JN: What areas of your game do you feel you need to improve in?

ZL: “I’m still 19-years old so my body is still maturing. I feel like I’ve added strength, I feel that will come naturally.  I want to get my body stronger, add some weight like I said before and just learn a little bit more about off-ball defense, I feel like I am a pretty good on-ball defender.   The grind and the process of the NBA lifestyle as well, you know you mess with 35-year old men so becoming more mature on and off the court as well.”

JN: How big has working with Drew Hanlen (@DrewHanlen) been to you?

ZL: “It’s been really good.  I’ve been working a lot on pick-and-roll reads, sharpening up my ball handling skills, and just becoming more consistent with my jump shot, getting all these different finishes and getting in condition so it has been a lot of fun.”

JN: What is one thing that he has taught you that changed who you are as a player?

ZL: “He’s a really cool dude and one of my close friends now. He’s been teaching me little tricks of the trade, dealing with NBA players before.  I feel like I’m going to be working out with him in the future as well.”

JN: The constant comparison when it comes to you is that of Russell Westbrook, another guard out of UCLA with elite athleticism.  Do you think those comparisons are fair and who is the NBA player you model your game after the most?

ZL: “I see the Russell Westbrook comparisons a lot. I feel like we do don’t play in the same way, he’s a little bit more reckless than I am.  He has a stronger body but athletically I feel we are on the same page.  He pulls up on the break a lot, I like to pull up and I feel like I can get to the lane very easy and create.  I feel like I play like Steph Curry as well with his dribbling and shooting ability off the dribble and one of my good friends Jamal Crawford, same body type, loose handles but still not that conventional point guard but has a lot of different moves to get a shot off on anybody. So I feel I have a little bit of all three of those players.”

JN:  With Jamal Crawford being a close friend, what has he done for you throughout this process?

ZL: “Jamal is a really cool dude and you can talk to him about anything.  He’s from the town like me so all the players from Seattle are definitely close to each other.  He gives me little tricks of the trade, been around the block a couple of times so it’s definitely something you look forward to talking to him about whenever you’re struggling with something and need to know something.”

JN: How was your experience at UCLA? Some questioned your decision to leave after one season, but what did you learn in college that made you feel that you were prepared to make the jump to the NBA?

ZL: “I felt it was my decision and felt it was the right time in my career to take that step.  I’m a confident person; I’m not scared of challenges and feel that my game translates to the NBA pretty well.  I learned life lessons, I had to deal with adversity, play at a level where you could see yourself at and just getting another year of experience.  It was my freshman year, I enjoyed it, living and dying with the guys every game so it was definitely a great experience for me.”

JN: Growing up a Lakers fan, was it surreal to workout for the Lakers in the pre-draft workout? How was the experience?

ZL: “It was a lot of fun. Growing up being a Laker fan, watching everything they do has been really fun for me. Then actually getting to workout for them, getting to put on that jersey is really cool and I took it all in, but at the same time I knew I had a job to do, try the best I could, and just impress.”

JN: You set a Laker pre-draft workout record with a 46-inch vertical, are you surprised by the reaction it’s getting?

ZL: “I mean I could see why, you don’t see that everyday (laughs).  I had I think a 45-inch vertical before at UCLA, 42 at the draft combine, so it depends some days on how you’re feeling, I was little more pumped up that day.  I feel like I did good overall. On the three quarter sprint I ran a 2.95 or something like that and the fastest at the combine was a 3.1, so I don’t know if that is a record for the Lakers or not, but I feel like I did pretty well in all of them.”

JN: Aaron Gordon said in an interview that he would be “tied at the hip” with Kobe Bryant if drafted by the Lakers, what would it mean to you to get drafted by the franchise and what would you hope to learn playing under Kobe?

ZL: “He’s been my favorite player growing up. Not just because of his flashy game, but I love his demeanor. He’s a killer, he puts in the work. I pat myself on always being one of the hardest workers on the team so you can learn everything from him.  He’s one of the greatest of all-time so it’s definitely something I can look forward to picking his brain from.”

JN: His work ethic and competitiveness is considered to be second to none, how do you think your work ethic and attitude would mesh with Kobe, someone who demands greatness from his teammates?

ZL: “He can see someone who he can see as his younger self. I feel like I have a very high competitive nature as well, someone that works extremely hard and is very focused.  Hopefully he would have a good reaction to it, I know at the end of the day he’s still going out there trying to kill you, it’s Kobe Bryant.”

JN: Being a fan, you know the expectations of the team and players are high in Los Angeles when it comes to the Lakers.  How would you handle those expectations?

ZL: “There are expectations but you can only handle what you can handle.  You go out there and try to do the best you can, work hard, try to win, and do the best to your abilities. Knowing me, if I got dressed up to be a Laker, I would be extremely happy.  I feel like my game fits LA. I’m excited to play out there, I feel like I can get the crowd off their feet.  It’s the Lakers, it’s show time, and I feel like my game is little bit of show time. I definitely feel like I can reach those expectations.”

JN: The Lakers and Clippers have somewhat flip flopped roles in Los Angeles in terms of success. What are your feelings on the current state of LA basketball?

ZL: “Lakers are one of the best franchises of all-time, so they are going to get back where they should be in the standings and in the rankings.  Every team goes through its ups and downs, it just happens.  The Clippers are a great team as well, they had their downs and now they are at the top of the pedestal so the Lakers are trying to get back up there.”

JN: Finally, what is your message to Laker Nation about why you are the right choice for the Lakers?

ZL: “I’m a player you can bank on, who is always going to be in the gym working hard, working on their game.  Someone who fits the play-style, fits the face of LA that I feel that I am an exciting player and I’ll do anything to win.  I’m competitive, I’m a team player, and I just feel like my game fits LA.”

Find out where Zach LaVine is drafted on Thursday June 26, 2014, live on ESPN.  Be sure to follow Zach on Twitter at @ZachLaVine as well as Laker Nation at @LakerNation for the latest news and updates surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers.

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