Lakers' draft prospects at forward

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
8:33
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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When considering the Los Angeles Lakers' legacy of success, a long line of dominant big men comes to mind. From George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain, Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O'Neal and O'Neal to Pau Gasol, the Lakers have always been able to rely on some of the league's premier pivot men.

While the league has transformed into a more open-floor game full of players capable of manning multiple positions, the fact remains that the basket is still 10 feet from the floor and having talented bigs on your team is a natural advantage.
The pool of forwards that the Lakers either brought in for workouts or eyed from afar during the pre-draft process is extremely varied.

There are one-and-done players and a four-year college vet. There are health question marks for some, skill question marks for others. There is the promise of upside for some and the sense that others are already bumping their heads against the ceiling of their potential.

Here's a look at seven frontcourt prospects whom the Lakers could end up targeting with the No. 7 pick in the draft:

Julius Randle
6-9, 234 pounds | 19 years old| Kentucky


[+] EnlargeJulius Randle
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsJulius Randle could be a major star in L.A., but some are worried about a previous foot injury.
From his 10,000-megawatt smile to the confident way in which he carries himself, there's just something about Randle that screams "future star." In a town like L.A., it's always a bonus to be a player who can master the media as well as you can take care of business on the court.

The Lakers are more concerned with what Randle can do to help them win games, of course. In his lone season at Kentucky, Randle proved he was plenty capable in that category, helping the Wildcats reach the NCAA title game thanks to averaging 15.0 points on 50 percent shooting and 10.4 rebounds as a freshman.

"I will say this," said ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "It's very rare that you see Julius Randle take a night off, and I think it's going to serve him well in the league. He's been knocked down a few pegs on these mock drafts, and I do think that, while I thought he was overrated coming into college -- and only slightly, by the way -- I think he's underrated coming into the league."

Based on Randle's production and NBA-ready physique, he would seem like a no-brainer if he were still on the board when it's the Lakers' turn to select. Not so fast. Randle suffered a broken right foot in high school and there is a pin inside his foot that may need adjusting with an additional procedure this summer.
Randle shrugged off the story as merely a plant by another team to have his stock drop so he would be available for it to draft him. He added that in the professional opinion of the specialist he recently visited to have his foot checked out, there is nothing that needs to be done.

There was some speculation that Randle had been given a guarantee by the Lakers at No. 7 because he turned down a second workout with Boston at No. 6 after he had visited with L.A., but Randle's agent, George Bass, told ESPNLosAngeles.com that is not the case.

Regardless, Randle will be tough for L.A. to pass on if he is around when it's the Lakers' turn to draft.

Chance he'll be available: Possible. ESPN's Chad Ford has the Lakers taking Randle in his Mock Draft 10. However, there is still the pesky issue of whether a team actually leaked the news about his foot or not. Say, hypothetically, the Celtics were the culprit. They could end up snagging him right before the Lakers are to pick.

Joel Embiid
7-0, 250 pounds | 20 years old| Kansas


Embiid's story is well known by now. In a matter of weeks, his reputation went from being the next Hakeem Olajuwon to possibly the next Greg Oden. After seemingly being fated to go No. 1 in the draft, he is now sliding.

Two non-contact injuries -- a stress fracture in his back followed by a stress fracture in his foot -- for someone so young could be an alarming pattern, or they could be just bad luck. Amar'e Stoudemire, for instance, suffered a string of injuries in the early part of his NBA career and then was able to be extremely productive for a half-dozen seasons before his body betrayed him again.

The vision of Embiid overcoming this initial setback of being out the next four to six months after surgery on his foot might be too tempting to pass up.

"He's a prototypical big of the future," said ESPN NBA analyst Tom Penn. "He's light and lively and covers space the way Serge Ibaka does. He can shoot the ball. He runs, and he's only been playing basketball for four years. So you've got this chance to get a 7-1 guy with a 7-5 or 7-6 wingspan with those other skills I just described. They don't come along very often."

According to a source familiar with the Lakers' thinking, L.A. is not too keen on taking the risk on Embiid should he be on the board when it's decision time. It's simply too risky of a gamble, especially considering the Lakers already have $48.5 million invested in Kobe Bryant over the next two seasons, putting the team firmly in a win-now mindset.

Chance he'll be available: Unlikely. Could the consensus top talent in the draft really fall that far? Wouldn't a team like Philadelphia, which has two first-round picks (No. 3 and No. 10), still be compelled to select him? Or how about Orlando (No. 4 and No. 12)? Or what about the Celtics, who are very much lusting after the services of Kevin Love? Wouldn't they have a better shot at landing him with a trade chip like Embiid in their war chest?

Aaron Gordon
6-9, 220 pounds | 18 years old| Arizona


[+] EnlargeAaron Gordon
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastAaron Gordon has impressed many, but there are questions whether he has a true position in the NBA or if he's a tweener.
Gordon is perhaps the most polarizing player in the draft. Those who like him will point to his extreme athleticism, defensive mindset and underrated passing ability as evidence he can fit in with any team without plays being called for him just like Shawn Marion or Kawhi Leonard. Those who doubt him will question whether he has a true position at either the 3 or the 4 or if he's just a tweener and point out that his jump shot is just as aesthetically troubling as Marion's, only not nearly as effective.

The Lakers clearly were impressed by Gordon, bringing him in for two workouts, and they are also committed to improving on defense as an organization. So that can only help Gordon.

Is he the guy though? We’ll see. He claims to have already made improvements on his one major weakness, free throw shooting, after hitting just 42.2 percent from the line for the Wildcats.

"I tweaked my free throw," Gordon said. "That's what made it easier on me mentally. I'm more confident with the shot that I'm shooting."

Chance he'll be available: Unlikely. Ford has him going No. 5 to Utah. If that doesn't happen, Boston has been rumored to be high on him as well.

Noah Vonleh
6-10, 247 pounds | 18 years old| Indiana


Vonleh is an impressive physical specimen with tree trunks for legs and hands the size of briefcases. He put those attributes to good use, too, leading the Big Ten in rebounding as a freshman (9.0 boards in just 26.5 minutes per game), while averaging 11.3 points, 1.4 blocks and shooting 48.5 percent from 3.

The knock on the former Hoosier is his motor doesn't run as hot as some of his lottery-bound cohorts. But with Vonleh being so young (he doesn't turn 19 until August), that could just be an example of someone who is still growing into his body and finding confidence in what he can and cannot do.

While Vonleh has been compared to spot-up big men like LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh, he was determined to show his full game off when he worked out with the Lakers.

"Trying to show my versatility," Vonleh said. "Showing I can take guys off the dribble, I can finish above the rim, go to work in the post when I have a smaller guy on me. Just really show my versatility and show how I can rebound the ball."

Chance he'll be available: Slim. Orlando likes him at No. 4, according to Ford. Even if the Magic get active with trades and end up drafting for another team, it would be difficult to see Utah and Boston both passing on him, too.

Doug McDermott
6-7, 218 pounds | 22 years old| Creighton


Not only is McDermott an elite shooter, hitting for 52.6 percent from the field, 44.9 percent from 3 and 86.4 percent from the line in his senior season with Creighton, he is one of the best scorers ever to play college basketball. "McBuckets" finished his career with 3,150 points in his four years, good for fifth all-time in NCAA Division I. Let that sink in for a second.

It's that elite skill that got him noticed -- a skill that should be even more impressive considering that he came into every college gym he played in for the past three years facing opponents with game plans specifically designed to shut him down -- but don't discount the fact he also pulled in 7.5 rebounds per game for his career despite measuring just under 6-7. The guy is a gamer.

Ford reported the Lakers tried to bring McDermott in for a second workout unsuccessfully, which could mean a variety of things. Maybe he had already been given a guarantee elsewhere and liked the fit of that organization. Maybe his agent, Mark Bartelstein, would rather see him play somewhere else so the Lakers would have more of a need to re-sign another one of his clients, Nick Young. Who knows?

Chance he'll be available: Strong. As polished as McDermott's game is, it would be hard to see him being off the board before the Lakers picked. Without that second workout, we're more likely to see him go later in the lottery, possibly to Charlotte at No. 9.

Jusuf Nurkic
6-11, 280 pounds | 19 years old | Bosnia


We're really digging deep here. It would be a shocker to see the Lakers go after Nurkic on draft night, but since we're surveying the top frontcourt players who are somewhat feasible, he's worth a mention. Plus, what kind of a draft board would it be in 2014 without at least one foreign prospect?

"Think Marc Gasol, but he's not quite as big, and he's certainly not polished," Fraschilla said of the Bosnian center.

Chance he'll be available: Very strong. Ford says Denver could go after him at No. 11. Realistically, he would be too much of a project for the Lakers at this point with all the roster holes they have to fill.

Kyle Anderson
6-9, 230 pounds | 20 years old| UCLA


He's not a prototypical lottery type of talent, but he's intriguing nonetheless. The placid big man, who has drawn comparisons to the likes of Boris Diaw and former Laker Sam Perkins, averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists in his sophomore season for the Bruins.

He shot 48.3 percent from 3 and despite being heavy-footed at times, still made eye-popping plays thanks to his deceptive 7-3 wingspan.

Also, the Lakers have always kept an eye on college talent matriculating in their own backyard, so you know that general manager Mitch Kupchak has scouted Anderson up and down by this point.

Chance he'll be available: Absolute. Ford predicts the Thunder take him at No. 21. This is the type of guy you could see L.A. pursuing if it is able to buy an additional first-round pick or if it chooses to trade down in the draft to secure multiple selections, which are both admittedly unlikely scenarios.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
27.5 4.0 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 9.7
AssistsJ. Lin 4.8
StealsN. Young 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.5