With all signs pointing the Karl-Anthony Towns going No. 1 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers hold the keys to the NBA Draft.
Right now it looks like there’s a consensus top tier of four players: Towns, Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, and Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis. Of the nine NBA Draft experts we surveyed on July 19, everybody has Towns, Okafor, and Russell in the top four, and six of nine had all four guys going top-four.
What no one can really agree on, though, is what exact order these guys will fall once Towns is off the board at No. 1. With the No. 2 pick, the Lakers won’t just be deciding on a key piece of their own future, they will have huge sway over who lands with the Philadelphia 76ers (No. 3 pick) and New York Knicks (No. 4 pick).
Assuming Towns goes No. 1, you could make a case that there are plausible scenarios where the Lakers, Sixers, and Knicks each have a shot at any one of Okafor, Russell, or Porzingis.
If the Lakers draft Jahlil Okafor at No. 2…
This is the most likely scenario, according to ESPN’s Chad Ford:
Hearing Lakers settling in on Jahlil Okafor at No. 2. Told 70-30 they’d take him on Friday. Up to 80-20 today.
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 22, 2015
In a scenario where Towns goes No. 1 and Okafor goes No. 2, the Sixers will have a choice between Russell and Porzingis. Since the Sixers already have two big men in need of minutes (Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel), have another big man stashed in Europe until 2016 (Dario Saric), and traded their starting point guard (Michael Carter-Williams), Russell is the obvious best fit. Some scouts think he’ll end up being the best player in the draft, and he’ll satisfy a clear need for Philly. In addition, drafting Russell would be a sign that GM Sam Hinkie is starting to see the light at the end of the tanking tunnel. The Sixers have thrown away two seasons already, they have to start putting together a coherent basketball team at some point, right? What message does it send if Hinkie drafts another raw big man in Porzingis when Russell is still on the board? Even the most diehard Hinkie believers might not stand for that.
Assuming the Sixers pick Russell at No. 3, the Knicks would have a choice to make. They could take Porzingis — who’s considered something of a boom-or-bust pick — or go with a perimeter player like Mudiay or Justise Winslow.
If the Lakers draft D’Angelo Russell at No. 2…
The Lakers have a wide-open depth chart right now. There’s no real reason to believe they’d rather take a big man than a guard. This is going to be a straight-up “best player available pick,” and there are some who think Russell is the best non-Towns prospect in the draft.
If they go a little bit outside the box and take Russell, then the Sixers are in a really tricky spot at No. 3. As we said above, they’re set on raw big men. So what do they do if the two best players available at No. 3 are Okafor and Porzingis? Do they take Mudiay or Winslow just so they can start to field a competitive team? Or do they double-down in hoarding assets? Hinkie has shown that he’ll make decisions based purely on value, even if it means he has a horribly unbalanced roster. If there’s one GM who’d pick Okafor when he already has two first-round centres on the roster, it’s Hinkie.
There’s also the wrinkle that Embiid, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken foot, aggravated that foot injury last week. If the Sixers believe that these injury issues are chronic and Embiid won’t be healthy until 2016 at the very earliest, you can justify drafting Okafor.
If the Sixers draft a perimeter player, the Knicks have suddenly lucked into Jahlil Okafor — the guy many Knicks fans wanted all year.
But the Sixers could also just take Okafor at No. 3, which would leave the Knicks in the same Porzingis/Mudiay/Winslow situation as above.
If the Lakers draft Kristaps Porzingis at No. 2…
This is probably what the Sixers and Knicks are hoping for.
There is a ton of Porzingis hype going on right now. It’d still be a shock if the Lakers took him No. 2, but it’s at least within the realm of possibility given what NBA scouts have been saying about him in recent weeks.
If that happens, the rest of the top-four plays out nicely for everyone involved. The Sixers get their guard in Russell at No. 3, and then the Knicks get Okafor at No. 4. If the Sixers go full Sixers and take Okafor, the Knicks grab Russell at No. 4 and go home happy.
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