Analyzing all options for the Lakers’ picks

The Lakers will have to weigh various questions on what they should do with their respective No. 17 and 47 NBA draft picks.

LOS ANGELES — Well before they are on the clock during the NBA Draft on Thursday, the Lakers will have to weigh various questions on what they should do with their respective No. 17 and 47 picks.

Should they follow the old-adage of selecting the best talent available, or should they prioritize addressing positional needs? Should they value youth and upside, or should they choose experience and predictability? Should they deal the pick even before the NBA Draft starts (5 pm PT), or should they wait to make any trades until free agency begins (June 30)?

No doubt, the Lakers have plenty of options. They don’t necessarily have easy answers. Below are a few scenarios to consider:

Should the Lakers trade their picks?

Expect the Lakers to keep an open mind on what they do. After all, so many moving developments could take place involving other teams leading up to Thursday’s draft. Therefore, it seems foolish just to watch from the sidelines.

Consider what Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, said after the Denver Nuggets swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

“If there are opportunities to get even better, whether it’s through the draft or whether it’s through trades or free agency, we’re always looking to improve,” Pelinka said.

Nonetheless, it appears the Lakers lack the assets to make any significant draft-day trades. It doesn’t seem likely the Lakers could move high up in the draft by packaging any combination of the No. 17 and 47 picks along with expiring contracts for Mo Bamba and Malik Beasley. Perhaps that helps the Lakers participate in the Chris Paul sweepstakes. That seems foolish, though.

The Lakers should pursue Paul only if he eventually gets waived. The reasons? One, the Lakers can secure Paul without sacrificing much salary or assets. Two, the Lakers would protect themselves from investing in a future Hall-of-Famer whose best days are behind him. No doubt, Paul would boost the Lakers with point-guard leadership, scoring and playmaking. Paul will get along just fine with LeBron James and his other new teammates, too. For a team that already has durability concerns surrounding James in his 21st season and Anthony Davis in really any seasons, however, the Lakers shouldn’t lean heavily on another star player that has suffered significant injuries in recent seasons.

By acquiring Paul off the waiver wire, the Lakers could benefit from his positive attributes while safeguarding against his negative ones by featuring him in a limited role. Granted, Washington may have traded Paul by then. At least, the Lakers would still have some assets to participate in possible sign-and-trades once free agency begins.

That leads to the next two questions. Who should the Lakers select with their picks then? With the caveat that the answer partly depends on who’s available, below are a few possible options.

Lakers’ draft options at No. 17

Dereck Lively II, Duke freshman center

Stats: 5.2 points on 65.8%, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game

Analysis: The Lakers won the 2020 NBA championship for reasons beyond James and Davis staying healthy and remaining dominant. They also had depth at the center spot with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard both becoming dependable lob threats. Even in today’s NBA that calls for smaller lineups, the Lakers would benefit from having an additional backup center.

Lively could relieve some of Davis’ workload at the center spot that he has played grudgingly out of durability concerns. Lively can offer rim protection against both traditional centers and against guards or wings attacking the basket. Lively can help space the floor with his rim running and versatility to close out on shooters. Lively would help the Lakers on defense primarily, but he also appears serviceable enough on offense for putbacks and open shots near the basket. This move would also give the Lakers an insurance policy in case the Lakers trade Bamba and to absorb any of Davis’ injury-related absences.

Kobe Bufkin, Michigan sophomore pointguard/shooting guard  

Stats: 2021-22: 3.0 points on 38%, 1.1 rebounds; 2022-23: 14.0 points on 48.2%, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists

Analysis: Bufkin improved tremendously between his freshman and sophomore seasons in all parts of his game. Just imagine how much Bufkin will blossom with more consistent on-court reps. Granted, the Lakers should prioritize maximizing their championship window than just trying to develop young players. Yet, Bufkin could provide some plug-and-play needs.

The combo guard has become an effective on-ball defender, particularly against the opponent’s top perimeter scorer. Bufkin has elevated his 3-point shooting as a sophomore (35.5%) after faring poorly as a freshman (22.2%). Although he remains a work in progress with his ball handling and speed, Bufkin has still become solid as a player and passer. The Lakers already have strong point-of-attack defenders, including Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers also have quality scorers and playmakers, including D’Angelo Russell (pending free agency) and Austin Reaves (presuming the Lakers retain him). But there is no such thing in today’s NBA as having too many two-way players.

Jett Howard, Michigan freshman shooting guard/small forward

Stats: 14.2 points, 41.4% overall and 36.8% from 3, 2.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists

Analysis: The Lakers improved their outside shooting following the Russell Westbrook trade. The Lakers didn’t improve it enough, though, as Russell demonstrated with his inconsistent post-season play. Howard would give the Lakers another dependable shooter immediately. He has a quick release, whether he’s shooting in transition, off the dribble or in catch-and-shoot. Considering he likely won’t have the ball in his hands that much, Howard would be perfect with an off-the-ball shooting role that requires only strong cutting and minimal dribbles to create quality looks.

Despite his inexperience, Howard has received an early education for playing with his father, Juwan, the Michigan coach and former NBA player. That will likely help Howard with adjusting to the NBA schedule and with showing professional work habits. Granted,  Howard hasn’t shown much defensive consistency despite his listed 6-foot-8, 215-pound frame. Considering his rookie stature and the Lakers’ various positional needs, it would be ideal for Howard to improve both in execution and effort. Considering the unpredictability on who might be available at No. 17, though, Howard seems like a serviceable option at least to help the Lakers’ 3-point shooting.

Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut, sophomore shooting guard

Stats: 2021-22: 5.8 points, 35.3% overall and 33.3% from 3, 2.0 rebounds; 2022-23: 16.2 points, 40.9 points, 40.9% overall and 38.8% from 3, 3.8 rebounds

Analysis: Talent evaluators have become impressed with how Hawkins has become an elite outside shooter. He has shown efficient footwork, has been effective with moving off of screens and can create shots both as a playmaker and in catch-and-shoot. In related news, Hawkins helped the Huskies win a national championship by going 21-for-42 from deep through six games in the NCAA tournament.

Just like with Howard, Hawkins would immediately bolster the Lakers’ 3-point shooting. Just like with Howard, however, Hawkins will likely struggle defensively. And that’s okay. Middle first-round picks are never going to fundamentally change a team’s identity, let alone solve every problems. In fairness to Howard, he has shown effort to round out his game. Through that lens, Howard would be a great pickup should he still remain available.

Maxwell Lewis, Pepperdine sophomore small forward

Stats: 2021-22: 11.0 points, 42.2% overall and 36.3% from 3, 3.2 rebounds; 2022-23: 17.1 points, 46.8% overall and 34.8% from 3, 5.7 rebounds

Analysis: Lewis can provide the qualities teams would want out of any 3-and-D wing, including perimeter shooting, perimeter defense and positional versatility. His skillset can give the Lakers a lot of flexibility to plug him in anywhere based on roster composition. Therefore, the Lakers shouldn’t fret they already have a proven 3-and-D player with Hachimura. NBA teams rarely go wrong with stocking up on wing players.

Lewis occasionally struggled with forcing things, an issue plenty of young players struggle to navigate. He won’t have that wiggle room with the Lakers, but that could be a good thing. It would help Lewis with refining his decision making. That issue aside, Lewis has all the tools to excel in the NBA with his scoring, outside shooting and all-around defense. An added bonus that Lewis played locally in college.

No. 47

Jordan Walsh, Arkansas freshman shooting guard/small forward

Stats: 2022-23: 7.1 points, 43.3% overall and 27.8% from 3, 3.9 rebounds

Analysis: What Walsh lacks with consistent shooting, he makes up for with his defense. With his 6-foot-7, 205-pound frame, Walsh excelled with covering both guards and forwards and with crashing the glass. He could help the Lakers in spot minutes in those areas, while he uses practice time to address his other weaknesses.  

Seth Lundy, Penn State senior shooting guard/small forward

Stats: 2019-20: 5.3 points, 39.4% overall and 39.1% from 3, 2.7 rebounds; 2020-21: 10.1 points, 38.5% overall and 32% from 3, 4.2 rebounds; 2021-22: 11.9 points, 39.5% overall and 34.8% from 3, 4.9 rebounds; 2022-23: 14.2 points, 45% overall and 40% from 3, 6.3 rebounds

Analysis: Through four years in college, Lundy eventually progressed as an outside shooter. He also became an increasingly reliable perimeter defender. As both a practice player and an occasional on-court player, Lindy could help bolster the Lakers with his energy and hunger.

Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan sophomore shooting guard/small forward

Stats: 2021-22 (Memphis): 9.7 points, 38.6% overall and 32.9% from 3, 3.3 rebounds; 2022-23 (Eastern Michigan): 19.2 points, 40.% overall and 33% from 3, 5.8 rebounds

Analysis: Bates’ stock would likely be higher if not for having maturity issues in Memphis and serving probation this past year on a misdemeanor gun charge. But Bates has also shown he’s capable with improving himself as a person and with his game. The Lakers don’t have the luxury of taking on projects. Given the team’s locker room dynamic, however, Bates could immediately fall in line and continue reaching his full potential. Perhaps it helps that Bates scored 43 points in an AAU game against James’ son, Bronny. Even before playing in an NBA game, Bates already earned James’ respect. 

Jordan Miller, Miami senior shooting guard/small forward

Stats: 2018-19 (George Mason): 10.4 points, 61.2% overall, 33.3% from 3, 7.1 rebounds; 2019-20 (George Mason): 12.7 points; 44.8% overall, 33% from 3, 5.3 rebounds; 2020-21 (George Mason): 15.8 points, 46.3% overall, 33.3% from 3, 6.1 rebounds; 2021-22 (Miami): 10.0 points, 56.1% overall, 29.2% from 3, 5.9 rebounds; 2022-23 (Miami): 15.3 points, 54.5% overall, 35.2% from 3, 6.2 rebounds

Analysis: Miller won Big 12 Player of the Year honors last season by thriving as a scorer and rebounder. He would have a reducing scoring role his rookie season. He can still produce, though, off missed shots and with opponents focusing their attention elsewhere. Most importantly, Miller would be dependable as a perimeter defender and occasionally against bigger players. Despite his 3-point shooting struggles, Miller can offer value even on a short-term basis.

Chris Livingston, Kentucky freshman small forward

Stats: 2022-23: 6.3 points on 42.9% overall, 30.5% from 3, 4.2 rebounds

Analysis: It seems puzzling Livingston declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft following a limited freshman season. It seems even more puzzling that he shut down workouts early considering his draft stock. That illustrates that Livingston has plenty of upside, though that will take time to bloom. The Lakers aren’t in a rebuilding project, so this isn’t the ideal choice. But especially later on in the draft, it’s best to select the best player available and then figure out the rest later.

Mark Medina covers the NBA for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.