Below is part of a recent conversation I had with Ryan Blake, the Director of NBA Scouting Operations, on the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft.
How would you analyze this upcoming draft?
Blake: “We have a deep draft, 60 players that could actually make a roster or more. In the lottery, we have a lot of good players. If we look toward the top, there’s going to be [Andrew] Wiggins, there’s going to be [Jabari] Parker. But I still don’t know about Joel Embiid and his back situation. That’s a huge red flag. Because of that we don’t know where anybody is going to be picked. If you’re going down 1-7, it’s anybody’s guess.”
So with the Lakers having the seventh pick, what do you think is their biggest need?
Blake: “They need a point guard. Kendall Marshall did pretty well. He’s still going to develop, but he’s not going to be your game changer. Is Dante Exum going to be that guy that’s going to change it? We haven’t seen him in play. He hasn’t played against men and he will have to tell veterans what to do. He has a lot of talent and will get individual workouts. They’ll be able to see him and get a good gauge.
But they could go for someone like Noah Vonleh, who is a Chris Bosh type of forward that can shoot it from the outside and go inside. He has developed at a high professional rate this year. It really depends. The Lakers are in a good situation in a way where there is going to be some mistakes or some players that may not be there. Paul Pierce went to 10th in Boston and they didn’t have him work out. They thought there is no way he is going to be here and he shows up there. If they like Marcus Smart, he’s going to be able to play two positions. He can be that two-guard that can really make players better. He’s a good defender. That could fall in line and help out.
Kobe Bryant is aging and under contract for two years. So they need some perimeter scoring, whether Kobe comes back healthy or not. Could an Aaron Gordon fit that type? They’ve seen him quite a bit. He can be your swing player and he has great athleticism. It’s one of those drafts where I’ve been trying to study and the players and they’re all really good. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s just tough to pin down. I’ve labeled this a BPA – take the best player available in the draft. But there’s so many spots the Lakers can fill that they don’t necessarily have to look out for the knockout punch or homerun.”
What’s your assessment of Julius Randle?
Blake: Randle is man child, but he’s still developing. He is a Zach Randolph type. The first thing you see is you get a guy who gets into the post and muscles his way around. He’s a versatile power forward. He can score with his back to the basket or he can face up. He has an NBA body. But he’s not always in tip top shape. He’s struggled with his jumper. But when he is surrounded by so many good players, they share the ball so much that won’t matter as much. He will still have to learn some things. But after a year or so, his upside is pretty big.
You mentioned that Embiid’s back issue being a red flag. But is he worth the risk?
Blake: Is Embiid worth the risk? He can be. But was it worth it for Portland when they got Greg Oden? Was there a risk at the time? It’s a strange scenario. I would be wary. Is he that good to take up at the top? He’s in the same realm as Randle. Embiid has a great motor and can be an excellent rebounder and can be that fighter in the paint. He’s that good, but is he able to workout? But that’s the problem. That’s the thing we don’t see. Those are question marks, especially when you would have to give up so much money. Let’s get him to work out and get that testing in. It’s that important when you’re spending millions of dollars and a pick.”
How much have you been able to see Dante Exum play?
Blake: “That’s the thing. There’s so many GM’s that haven’t seen him. He played internationally and played well at the Nike Hoops Summit. But there is so much into evaluating a point guard. He’s talented and very quick. He’s tested well at the Combine. We know he can shoot the ball and we know he’s a very good passer. But when you don’t get to see a guy that much play in a game, you can’t get totally enamored with the physical qualities. I think it’s going to take time for him to develop, learn a system and play against men.
How would you compare Marcus Smart’s game to Exum’s?
Blake: “It’s a different game. Marcus is a power point guard. He didn’t play point guard until he came to college. He’s more of a two-guard and he’s a power player. He doesn’t shoot the ball that well. I think he will become a better shooter and utilize the pick and roll better. He finds angles and muscles his way into traffic. He can get into traffic, hold himself and finish. That’s very important.
He’s a super competitor and he’s a fighter on both ends of the floor. That’s what you want. He’s a guy who’s extremely strong and big. He can defend more than one position. As I label all of these things about Smart, I go off on what Exum can do against these guys. Can he get around Marcus Smart? Can Marcus Smart body him up? Those are the questions you have to figure out. Getting him into individual workouts will help some and there’s platforms you can get some viable answers by having him in.
When you look at the history of the draft and this upcoming class, what impact can a seventh overall pick make on the Lakers?
Blake: “Everybody wants to have that franchise player. But that just doesn’t happen. It’s hard to predict. That’s why you look at this and look at the top guys. The NBA is happy with having these guys. But none of them actually dominated college basketball. It’s a good draft. But is it a great draft? We won’t know until three years from now.
What we tend to think as media, fans and scouts is that guy has to come in and change the whole organization. But that just doesn’t happen. You build a team on draft picks, free agency and acquisitions. That’s how you do it. Mitch Kupchak obviously has the experience to do that. L.A. is a desirable place to play and they have a legacy.
Do you envision that seventh pick at least serving as a significant piece to the rebuilding process?
Blake: “I do. I see it from top to bottom. But the hardest thing to judge is heart. None of these players are also going to be the first option. They’re going to have earn their minutes, gain some confidence and try to integrate them to be more of an option and prove it.”
Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart to work out with Lakers, eager to show his maturity
NBA Draft, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh could fulfill several of Lakers’ needs
Dante Exum has embraced Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant, but would he embrace playing for the Lakers?