They have the 17th pick in the draft, a selection they could use to add more young talent or as a trade chip to bring in a quality veteran to assist LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the win-now path that this team is on. The Lakers also have a second-round pick at No. 47.
Teams like the Lakers, who draft in the mid-teens, appear to be looking for a version of the same player, according to NBA scouts who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
“I can see the Lakers and the teams in the same place as them looking for the best available player and for players with shooting range,” said one Western Conference scout. “You’re looking for length. You’re looking for 3-and-D. That’s the going rate for everybody now, looking for somebody who can guard and somebody who can shoot.”
The only sure things in this draft, scouts said, are the top three picks.
San Antonio has the first pick and is expected to draft 7-4 wunderkind Victor Wembanyama of France. Charlotte is second and is expected to draft either forward Brandon Miller from Alabama or point guard Scoot Henderson from G League Ignite. Portland is third and is expected to take whoever doesn’t finish second.
At No. 17, the Lakers have to wait to see who is left on the draft board that they still like.
“When there’s a consensus in the top three like there is this year, anything can happen afterward,” said one Eastern Conference scout. “The top three guys, none of those guys are going to fall out of the top three. And then afterwards it’s kind of a matter of who teams like.
“I think the Lakers are going to get somebody good at 17. I think it’s a good draft. I think they’re going to get somebody good.”
The players who have been linked to the Lakers in mock drafts or by NBA scouts are talented players who may still be available when they pick, who may slide to them or may be gone by the 17th.
Here are some players to watch for the Lakers:
Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin, Connecticut guard Jordan Hawkins, Baylor guard Keyonte George, Duke center Dereck Lively II, Kentucky point guard Cason Wallace, Michigan guard Jett Howard, Santa Clara guard Brandin Podziemski, Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr ., Alabama power forward Noah Clowney ; and Indiana point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino.
“The draft is all about talent, right? You can fill out a team with needs in free agency,” said one Western Conference scout. “I think you draft for talent, and for the Lakers, this pick is one of the few first-round picks they have left, right? So you really have to make this one count. …
“I don’t think you can draft just by need, especially when you have the veterans they have. Last year they went for talent and got Max Christie. I think the Lakers are going to be young and they’re going to swing for talent and not for need. That’s what they usually do. That’s their track record. They usually go for talent rather than need.”
Lively, a 7-1 center, has seen his stock rise and fall, going from as high as No. 11 in mock drafts to as late as 17. He is considered a player with the same skill set as Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela, who has the ability to protect the rim and roll to the basket for lob passes.
“He can step out and shoot a little bit, but you don’t want to ask him to stand at the rim and shoot it,” the Western Conference scout said. “He’s big, he’s athletic, he can protect the rim. He can match up with LeBron. He can match up with AD. He’s got athleticism and size.”
The 6-4 Bufkin averaged 14.0 points per game. game as a sophomore and shot 35.5% from three-point range. He played in the tough Big Ten Conference for Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who played in the NBA.
“Kobe is long, tall and has proven to be tougher playing for Juwan,” the Western Conference scout said. “He’s a decent shooter and he guards, which is his claim to fame. At Michigan, they put him on some of the tough assignments and he could guard them. As a kid, he’s one of the best. He’s a great kid. He’s going to grind because he’s got something to prove. The Lakers at 17 are all about his range. He could be there.”
Howard’s 6-8 son Jett, who also played at Michigan for his father, showed some scoring ability.
Clowney, a 6-10 big man, improved his stock in the pre-draft process. Hood-Schifino, a 6-4 guard, is NBA ready and a hard worker. Smith, a 6-5 guard, has slipped somewhat in the draft.
“You’re looking for the best player, the best available,” the East scout said. “The Michigan kids could be there or they could be gone. They could be in that area. It all depends. But to be honest, the Lakers do a heck of a job drafting. You have to give them credit.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.