The Sacramento Kings figured they got their guard of the future on draft night last June when they traded away their No. 7 pick, Bismack Biyombo, in a three-team deal to acquire the sharp-shooting Jimmer Fredette, who was drafted No. 10 by Milwaukee.
It turns out the Kings’ most important decision of the night just might have occurred several hours later when they used the last pick in the draft on Isaiah Thomas at No. 60.
Fredette went on to average 7.6 points on 38.6 percent shooting, struggling to recapture the magic in his stroke that made him a national sensation at Brigham Young. The 5-9 Thomas, meanwhile, finished the season averaging 11.5 points and 4.1 assists while outshooting Fredette both from the field (44.8 percent) and from 3-point range (37.9 percent). Thomas ended up being named a two-time NBA Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference and finished seventh in Rookie of the Year balloting.
The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in the Kings’ boat this year, as their lone selection headed into Thursday’s draft is No. 60. It figures to be a deep draft because of a stockpile of talent that stayed in college an extra season this past year in part because of fear of a lockout wiping out the entire 2011-12 NBA season, but finding a success story like Thomas with the last pick in the second round is a long shot. A league executive told me that he expects every first round pick in the 2012 draft to become rotation players, but admitted the second round is still a crapshoot.
While pulling a rabbit out of a hat can’t be expected, the Lakers should have some confidence in their track record of the guys who are announced on draft night by deputy commissioner Adam Silver instead of the head honcho David Stern, who takes the night off from the stage after the first round has ended.
In the last 20 years, the Lakers have done quite well in the second round as their draftees have gone on to play an average of 140 games in the NBA, which is 10th best in the league during that time period, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The average second round pick since 1992 has played 125 games in the league, according to Elias.
That statistic doesn’t even do the Lakers complete justice because second round picks Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Von Wafer, Marc Gasol, Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock are all still active players.
Also in the last 20 years, the Lakers landed two players that went on to become All-Stars in the second round in Gasol (who was their No. 48 pick in 2007 and ultimately was used to acquire his older brother Pau Gasol who helped L.A. to back-to-back championships) and Nick Van Exel (the No. 37 pick in 1993 who was named an All-Star in 1998 in his fifth and final season with the Lakers).
Despite their second-round success, the Lakers have had their fair share of misses. Anybody remember their 1997 draft class of DeJuan Wheat (No. 52 out of Louisville) and Paul Rogers (No. 54 out of Gonzaga)? How about the 2009 duo of Patrick Beverly (No. 42 out of Arkansas) and Chinemelu Elonu (No. 59 out of Texas A&M)?
But it’s not just the Lakers. For every Thomas or Semih Erden (picked No. 60 in 2008) who went on to make a name for themselves in the league, there are 10 guys like Dwayne Collins or Robert Dozier who never sniff the NBA and try to stake out a career overseas.
Still, there’s reason for optimism. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak likes to use the phrase “finding value” to describe the task of unearthing an impact prospect deep in the draft or signing a free agent for the minimum salary that ends up getting playing time.
Value has been found across all professional sports late in drafts.
In the NFL, which has a seven-round draft, they call the last pick “Mr. Irrelevant.” Ryan Succop went from being Mr. Irrelevant, the No. 256 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, to becoming the starting kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Los Angeles fans should also remember Major League Baseball’s Mike Piazza who was the 1,390th player selected in the 1988 draft when the L.A. Dodgers picked him up in the 62nd round. Piazza went on to become the one of the most feared hitting catchers of all time.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.