EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — With anticipation high about what they would do with the No. 17 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Lakers stood and applauded and selected Jalen Hood-Schifino.
After making calls and weighing potential trade offers with multiple teams, they ultimately valued the opportunity to select the guard from Indiana University, who they had expected to go earlier in the draft. He’s their highest pick since they selected Lonzo Ball No. 2 in 2017.
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka cryptically hinted that the team was unable to find a deal it liked when he spoke to the media afterward.
“I think the end goal, we talk about it all the time, is that we put a championship-level product on the field,” Pelinka said. “… Sometimes you can’t make all your moves in one fell swoop. But we’re really excited about how the draft went. Just the value we were able to acquire with those two players. We’ll continue to have our thoughts on how we fill out the rest of the roster — or any other moves that happen during free agency.”
Their big move of the day technically came hours before the draft when they agreed to send the No. 47 pick and cash to the Pacers in exchange for the No. 40 pick, league sources confirmed. Athletics. ESPN was the first to report the trade.
Los Angeles then selected Pepperdine wing Maxwell Lewis at that spot. The Lakers ended up sending over $4.3 million to the Pacers in what eventually became a four-team deal, according to team sources not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
“We have a pending transaction for another high second-round pick that we’re excited about,” Pelinka said. “Can’t talk about the second-round pick until that trade is completed.”
The deal was finalized and announced just before midnight PT after Pelinka spoke.
Analysis, fits all 58 NBA Draft picks from John Hollinger and Sam Vecenie
Considering their frontcourt is largely stacked with Anthony Davis, LeBron James (who is expected back), Jarred Vanderbilt (who the Lakers will pick up the team option of) and Rui Hachimura (who the team plans to re-sign), the Lakers had primarily looked at bigger guards and wings at No. 17. (Dereck Lively II, who went No. 12 to Dallas, was an exception).
Hood-Schifino was projected to go between picks Nos. 10 to 20, though most mock drafts had him going before the Lakers’ draft slot. Lewis was expected to go in the early second round. From that perspective, the Lakers found value in both picks.
Pelinka referred to Hood-Schifino as a “lottery-level talent” and a player with “Laker DNA” because of his positional size, feel for the game and maturity. The Pittsburgh native earned rave reviews from his coach at Indiana, former NBA coach Mike Woodson, for his unprecedented professionalism and work ethic at 19 years old.
“We think he’s a good fit for the young core that we’re building here,” Pelinka said.
Hood-Schifino, who turned 20 earlier this week, is considered an NBA-ready prospect capable of assuming a rotation role. His physical tools immediately jump out for a guard, as he is 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and a sturdy 215-pound frame. He won the Big Ten’s Rookie of the Year award, averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a freshman on a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. AthleticsSam Vecenie mocked him as #13 and ranked him #15 on his Big Board.
“I’d just say I’m an all-around player,” Hood-Schifino said. “I check a lot of boxes. Obviously a big guard. I feel like I can score from all three levels. Really unselfish. Floor general.”
Hood-Schifino attacks best from ball screens and gets into the middle of the floor. He has a lethal pull-up jumper (he shot 42.3 percent on midrange jumpers last season, according to Synergy), though he’s also able to finish with floaters (he made 41 percent last season, according to Synergy) and find his roll man with either pocket passes and lobs. He is a cerebral ball handler and playmaker who uses angles and changes of pace effectively. He processes information quickly and has the type of versatile skill set that non-star players need to succeed.
On the other end of the floor, Hood-Schifino is capable of defending both backcourts — and even small forwards in certain matchups. He is a ballhawk who uses his strength, speed and IQ to keep ball handlers in front of him. He adequately contends over on-ball and off-ball screens, and is best utilized in a drop scheme, meaning he will translate nicely to Lakers head coach Darvin Ham’s preferred defensive scheme.
“He brings such a great physical package and profile to be a great defender,” Pelinka said. “… He has all the skills with the length to disrupt passing lanes, disrupt shots. … He has a real physical presence. Big shoulders. Big back. … He is really built.”
Jalen Hood-Schifino is showing that he is the reason Indiana could go deep in March
While physically imposing, he is a below-average athlete by NBA standards, which affects his ability to finish at the rim, take care of the ball and create separation in isolation.
The biggest question regarding Hood-Schifino’s future is his perimeter shooting — a big question for any guard in today’s game. He made just 33.3 percent of his 3s at Indiana (he shot just 30.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s). That’s clearly an area he needs to improve on, especially for a Lakers group that struggled from beyond the arc last season. That said, he shot 37 percent on pull-up 3s, per Synergy, which is an encouraging number.
The Lakers are optimistic that their development staff can help Hood-Schifino make a significant leap as a shooter.
“We saw again, just as a point of comparison, with a player like Austin Reaves when we drafted him that he wasn’t a knockdown shooter. But he is now,” said Pelinka. “It’s because he put in work – and work with our staff. And I know that’s something Jalen is committed to as well.”
The Lakers view Hood-Schifino as capable of playing both backcourt positions and developing into a complementary fit next to restricted free agent Reaves, whom the Lakers intend to re-sign this offseason.
“You think about the possibility of pairing two young guards together like Austin Reaves and Jalen Hood-Schifino,” Pelinka said. “People would say, ‘Is Austin a point guard?’ A 2 shift?’ Well, he’s a guard on the ball. He can play with the ball in hand. And I would say the same thing about Jalen Hood-Schifino.”
The Lakers were the first team that Hood-Schifino visited and worked out for. He fits the ethos of the organization – and oozes the kind of confidence the Lakers crave. He believes he is capable of earning minutes as a rookie.
“Defensively, I can really guard any position,” Hood-Schifino said. “And I have a big body, a strong body, I think that’s obviously going to help me guard point guards and guard bigger players. I think that’s one way I’m going to be able to separate myself to earn minutes as a rookie.”
As for Lewis, the 6-foot-7 wing has elite athleticism, a 7-foot wingspan and an 8-foot-8 1/4 standing reach. AthleticsSam Vecenie pegged him at #36 and placed him at #35 on his Big Board.
Lewis, who turns 21 next month, is a knockdown shooter who made 35.4 percent on 3s in his two seasons at Pepperdine. He uses his size well offensively and exploits mismatches by either turning in hook shots or turning and shooting over smaller defenders in the post. At this point, his most NBA-ready skill appears to be his catch-and-shoot ability.
Given his athletic ability, Lewis is a dynamic transition threat who can blow by defenders and throw down high-light dunks. He often wins vertical battles against opponents. He’s also a good cutter and mover who has a knack for finding openings on defense (a trait that will mesh well with James).
He has shown talent as a ball handler and passer, but these are two areas he needs to continue to refine his skill set and develop. His NBA ceiling will likely be determined by how he grows in those two areas.
Defensively, Lewis has the physical gifts to be an effective defender, but his awareness isn’t always present. He tends to fall asleep off the ball and play too much in passing lanes. He also lacks strength, allowing larger and stronger wings to power through him. He’s more 3 than D on the 3-and-D spectrum. Nevertheless, his length is a factor that allows him to be a defensive playmaker when engaged.
Lewis is more of a project than Hood-Schifino, which is somewhat obvious given the gap in which each was drafted. That said, he has the type of upside that teams look for in the second round, and the Lakers were clearly high enough to invest in him. Lewis was one of the standouts during the Lakers’ group workouts during the pre-draft process.
The 2023 NBA Draft ended up being a relative dud trade-wise — not just for the Lakers, but for the rest of the league as well.
Aside from the Chris Paul-Jordan Poole blockbuster earlier in the day, there were no worldwide deals during the draft. Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson stayed in Portland and New Orleans, respectively. Neither choice no. 2 nor no. 3 was considered. Even when Cam Whitmore, a projected lottery pick, slipped to Houston at pick No. 20, no team decided to trade up to steal him. (The Lakers considered Whitmore, according to team sources, but determined Hood-Schifino was a safer bet.)
The Lakers, walking the delicate line of balancing their championship aspirations with the reality that their window might only be a year or two, prioritized their future over their present on draft night.
They couldn’t find a trade that made sense and missed a valuable opportunity to flip the contracts of Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba along with the No. 17 pick ahead of free agency for a better rotation player who would upgrade next season’s roster. Instead, they drafted two rangy perimeter players who they believe will grow into key members of their core.
There’s always the chance the Lakers include one or both of their rookies in a future transaction, depending on how their offseason options play out. But for now, the Lakers seem content to see what they have with Hood-Schifino and Lewis first. The Lakers’ vaunted scouting department has been given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps one or both will be ready to contribute sooner than expected. It happened two seasons ago with Reaves. Max Christie also had productive moments as a rookie last season.
Still, Thursday’s result was a reminder that the Lakers are aware of the importance of building their future after James, who may be only a year or two away.
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(Top photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)