The Lakers started far better than most believed they could and, for the most part, it seemed legitimate. However, injuries derailed the team’s hot start, and shortly after that, the hypothetical articles flew. One such article was released by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. I’m here to tell you that Captain Hindsight isn’t always right.
You’ll notice that I didn’t link to the article and that was for a reason. First, I dislike Kevin Ding. This article alone shows how little he researches information, and he continues to show his disdain for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. It seems like he always releases an article about the dysfunction in the front office just before an important period for the organization. Ding released this article the day after the Knicks beat the Lakers 118-112 in the midst of a six game losing streak. It seems that this time around, Ding was aiming to kick them while they are down.
Essentially, the article describes the Lakers “failure” to draft Porzingis as “old-school thinking”, even though Porzingis was brought in for a private workout with the Lakers, one of the few teams that were granted such an opportunity. Kupchak wanted to “challenge his manhood rather than a validation of his gifts”. Ding goes on about how challenging the toughness of a 7’3 player was what made them fail. This is unequivocally false and expands a narrative that Ding continues to push: that Buss and Kupchak are not good at drafting, or much of anything else.
Let’s go back and briefly recap the top four picks of the 2015 draft. The consensus among hundreds of scouts was that Karl-Anthony Towns was the #1 overall pick no matter who was going to select him. Most of those same scouts believed that Jahlil Okafor was #2, with some believing D’Angelo Russell was #3, though some thought he was #2. Kristaps Porzingis was a consensus #4 pick and there was no debate about that. The Lakers were a long shot to even keep their pick, let alone move up to the #2 pick overall. Even until the actual pick was made, everyone believed that Okafor was going to be a Laker.
The Lakers picked D’Angelo Russell, and it wasn’t just because he was the second most likely star in the draft. It was also because he had that swagger to be a leader. If you looked back at all the mock drafts it was mostly the same order. Towns, Okafor, and Russell to the Timberwolves, Lakers, and 76ers in that order. The Lakers picked otherwise, and even though it’s not fair to call Okafor a bust at his age, it is fair to say that the Lakers made the right choice based off those three and what dropped to them. If anyone totally missed on Kristaps Porzingis, it was the 76ers, not the Lakers. Make no mistake, if the Lakers had in fact stayed at #4, they would have selected Porzingis. After all, Kupchak was one of the first to go scout him overseas. (Per Mark Medina of the Daily News 3/19/2015)
NBA mock drafts tab Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl Anthony-Thomas and Willie Cauley-Stein and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell as possibilities. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak plans to travel to Europe for a scouting trip beginning Monday, though it was not clear which countries he will visit.
Kristaps vs D’Angelo
In no way am I saying that Kristaps is not an excellent player, or that he is not an excellent talent with an incredible future. Kristaps is in every way shape and form a “Unicorn”. He is a 7’3 power forward or center that can shoot over most power forwards and spreads the floor with his excellent three point shooting ability. That said, to say he is already forcing the Lakers to regret drafting D’Angelo Russell over him is very short sighted.
First and foremost, Porzingis is a player that ends plays rather than starting them. Porzingis will only be successful if the ball ends in his hands instead of starts in them. His catch and shoot abilities are excellent for a big of his size. Russell in comparison can start and finish on offense. Though he hasn’t had the minutes to fully show his talents, based on this season alone you can see (compared evenly) they are almost identical in their own ways. Russell has more assists, Porzingis has more rebounds as you would expect.
As you can see, they are almost identical in their own ways if both had the same amount of possessions played and minutes played.
Who runs the offense?
Numbers aside, what is not shown by stats is leadership qualities. Porzingis is a leader stats wise, but on the court he is not, at least not yet. In a recent game against the Sacramento Kings, there were a few instances in which Russell pulled all his teammates on the court together to settle his teammates down. This a second year player pulling in the likes of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to tell them where they need to be and where he wants them to be. Porzingis’ lack of such moments may be a product of the fact that the Knicks have Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony on the court. In my opinion, Russell was going to be this way with anyone once he got a year under his belt and a coach that encouraged it instead of benching him for trying to lead his team.
The Lakers needed a leader to take the mantle from Kobe Bryant after he retired. Though Kristaps Porzingis is an excellent player, I believe in the long run he will be the Pau Gasol to someone’s Kobe Bryant. Or the Tim Duncan to someone’s Tony Parker. The Lakers may already have that combo with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, or D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. By no means should this take away from Porzingis, who has the potential to become a superstar if he isn’t already. I personally believe that the Lakers selecting D’Angelo Russell gives them a superstar of almost equal or equal talent that can run an offense as well as finish it. Unfortunately for the impatient, it takes more time for guards to become superstars than it does for 7’3 unicorn big men.