The Lakers aren’t historically known for building through the draft, as they’d usually reload rather than rebuild. But consecutive years among the west’s bottom dwelling teams plus a few years pushing the odds in the lottery forces you to adapt. And as blessed as they are with consecutive top 2 picks, the Lakers have drafted exceptionally well in the later stages of the draft, a refreshing new focus in regards to valuing picks, whether it’s a lottery pick or a 2nd rounder. As good as the scouting department is, luck has played just as much a role, and maybe even more.
Since 1989, the Lakers selected at #27 a total of 5 times, making it the most frequent position the Lakers have selected in during the modern NBA draft process. And over the years, 27 has proven to be a lucky number, as each pick turned out to have a pivotal role for the franchise.
1990: Elden Campbell
Ushering in the post Showtime era, the Lakers of the early 90s, much like the present, consisted of a core young, talented players. The trio of Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Campbell brought joy and entertainment to a fanbase that was otherwise, mourning the premature retirement of Laker legend Magic Johnson. And as the 27th pick, Campbell brought great value as the team’s starting Power Forward for 7 of the 9 seasons he spent in Los Angeles. Standing at 6″11 with a strong mid range game as well as skills in the post, he was the classic, prototypical NBA 4 that fit in well with the team. Before being ultimately traded to the Charlotte Hornets to make room for Robert Horry, he helped the team reach the playoffs every year, with the lone exception being the 93-94 season. Though his LA teams never won a ring, and was more commonly remembered as a transition era to Kobe-Shaq Lakers Dynasty, he would eventually win a ring at the expense of Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons.
Though he may not be at the same caliber as most of the Lakers’ storied big men, Campbell still came in and averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks all in 25 minutes per game in his 9 years in LA, putting on great performances like the one against Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks in a double overtime game during the 96-97 season. Ewing put up 35 points and 25 rebounds while Campbell put 40 and 10 of his own.
2002: Kareem Rush
During the 2002 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected Chris Jefferies with the 27th overall pick and whose draft rights was later traded for the draft rights of Kareem Rush. After concluding 3 years of consistent improvement via college basketball in Missouri, 3 years where he averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 44% shooting from the field and 42% from distance at 30 minutes a night, Jefferies ended up having a relatively short NBA career. While he didn’t score in the pros the way he did in college, Jefferies still had a memorable moment on the court as a member of the Lakers. Thanks to his three point shooting, he was able to earn a good 14 minutes a game during the Lakers playoff run in 2004, and while they would eventually lose to the Pistons in the Finals, Jefferies put on a pivotal performance just a round prior.
In the series clinching sixth game against Kevin Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Jefferies torched the opposition with six threes, hitting a couple of long distance shots during a tight contest late in the fourth quarter. He finished the night with 18 points, on 6/7 shooting, playing his role in putting the Lakers atop the rest of the west, and having an opportunity, once again, to play for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
2004: Sasha Vujacic
In June of 2004, the Lakers walked away from draft night selecting sharpshooter Sasha Vujacic who played in the Italian basketball league the year prior. Truth be told, they knew what they were going to get with Vujacic: an three point marksman who can knockdown open shots. What they didn’t anticipate was they were also drafting the man who famously calls himself, “The Machine”.
While he never got to play huge minutes for the Lakers (a career 14.3 minutes per game in his 7 seasons with LA), Vujacic endeared himself to the fans, with his hard-nosed and scrappy type of play. He was never a great defender, but he works hard out on the court and would consistently irritate the opposing match-up and was highly successful at it. Just don’t think you could do the same to “The Machine” and walk away unscathed.
I believe it’s also worth noting that playing for the a franchise like the purple and gold elevated his own personal brand. He was with the team in the early 2000s, standing in the corner as he watched Kobe take triple and quadruple teams on a nightly basis, biding his time and ultimately showing everyone on a national level who Sasha Vujacic was as the Lakers rose back to prominence later on. After barely even playing in the 2010 playoffs at all, he was subbed in for Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the hated rival Boston Celtics to ice the game, calmly sinking in two picture perfect free throws. At that moment, he epitomized what a role player is: a player that not only comes in to fulfill a specific task, bu also comes in prepared to maximize the opportunity given to him, all in the name of the team.
2015: Larry Nance Jr.
A more recent 27th pick, Larry Nance Jr. has already made a name for himself in his two seasons in the league. Son of former Slam Dunk Champion and NBA legend Larry Nance Sr., Nance Jr. has hops that rival that of his father, and maybe even better. Dunking is not all the young power forward is good at though, as he displays a maturity and discipline out on the court that is much more polished than the other young bucks on the Lakers today.
While Larry’s Laker career didn’t exactly get off to a great start thanks to a not-so-friendly tweet concerning an NBA/Laker legend,
I think it’s safe to say the fans have forgotten all about this little bump in the road, as Lakernation clearly considers him a favorite. Always looking to make the right play, whether it’s the extra pass, the discipline to help on defense or the hustle plays to get the boards or loose balls, Larry has proven himself on the court and inspired a change of heart in a fanbase that was ready to rip his head off after digging through his twitter feed.
With tons of room to grow and an inevitable frontcourt jam heading into the season, Larry Nance Jr. must prove himself once again that he has just as bright a future as the rest of the young core. He’s certainly building quite the resume to back that up…
His welcome to the NBA (preseason) moment:
The one where he graciously baptizes David West and proceeds to end him, all in one gif.
And of course, the classic, “Dunked on him so hard he became my teammate”.
2017: Kyle Kuzma
And last but certainly not least, the team’s most recent draft pick, Kyle Kuzma. After draft night, many among Lakernation (including myself) were scratching their heads when the 27th pick was called. Everybody had the same question in mind: “Who is Kyle Kuzma?” After summer league though, Kuzma gave fans more than enough reason to remember his name.
After three seasons playing NCAA basketball for Utah, the young forward showcased just how goo he is as a dynamic stretch 4. His combination of shooting, transition scoring and smart passing make him the ideal fit in Luke Walton’s system. He also showed great competitive edge when he had got matched up with guys like 3rd overall pick Jayson Tatum, proving himself serviceable in 1-on-1 coverage. Seeing him run the wings in transition and catching full- court touchdown passes from Lonzo Ball might be a sight we’ll be seeing for years to come. Coming away with Summer League Finals MVP and averaging 21.9 PPG, 6.4 REB, 2.7 APG, 1.1 STL, 1.4 BLK on 51.4% FG, he’ll surely command minutes, seeing as he’s the only viable stretch 4 the team can rely on at this point.
If they don’t get a jumpshot soon, Nance Jr. and Julius Randle may very well lose some of their minutes to the up and coming Kyle Kuzma – the Lakers newfound gem at number 27.
Building through the draft has been a popular strategy for NBA teams in recent years. With the value of draft picks sky rocketing significantly in this modern era, it’s pivotal for a team’s front office to exercise its due diligence and maximize a pick based on its position on the board.
In all honesty, sports drafts are glorified crapshoots, and the NBA’s no different. There’s so many variables in play that player evaluation doesn’t always rest upon a prospect’s college career, and banking on potential to translate in the pros will never be a sure-fire endeavor. With that said, many teams have had great luck in the draft, and the Lakers have certainly been nothing short of magic at number 27.