Thursday, June 18, 2015

D'Angelo Russell vs. Jahlil Okafor: Shaping the Lakers future

The Los Angeles Lakers face an identity crisis next Thursday.

With the #2 selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, the team is prepared to add a college star to their rebuilding efforts.  However, the question they must answer is a fairly new concept for rebuilding NBA teams: big or small?

If it was 2008, we wouldn't even be asking this question because you never pass up a big for a small. Remember Oden/Durant?

But it's 2015 now.  The Warriors just won a championship with Draymond Green at center.

So assuming Karl Anthony-Towns is gone, do the Lakers select Duke C Jahlil Okafor and hope he continues a long-standing history of dominant big men for the franchise?  Could he be the next Shaq, a center so dominant in the block that he changes the rest of the game for his teammates?

Or, do they look around the league and realize, in today's NBA, success can come quickly with a ball-dominant, high-IQ guard like Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell?  Is he the next Kobe? Is he the next James Harden?

That is one tough call.

What makes this choice so interesting to me is the Lakers recent history involving their style.  The team tried to embrace the "pace and space" era of the NBA with Mike D'Antoni, yet did so without ever properly surrounding him with the talent to run the system.  When the Lakers fired D'Antoni last summer, they went about as far away from that style of play as possible, bringing in Byron Scott, who spent most of the year trying to sell fans on the notion that three-pointers don't win championships.  Armed with that knowledge, one would assume the team would lean more towards Okafor over Russell, simply because of pace.

So, here we are one week out.

What will they do?

A lot of it depends on what the Lakers believe they can do in the free agent market over the next two summers.  If they feel good about getting a big like Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe or DeAndre Jordan, then they should probably take Russell.  If not, then how can you pass on Okafor's offensive skill, especially with the legacy of Hall of Fame big men that have passed through the organization?

If I have to guess, I would bet Okafor is too tempting to pass up.

The fact that this presents a real dilemma shows how quickly the league is changing and how teams like the Lakers have to question what they want to be, not only now, but also for the future as they try to build a competitive team in an ever-changing, evolving NBA.

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