With no NBA draft picks, Lakers need undrafted free agents

With no NBA draft picks Lakers need undrafted free agents

Reputations can begin in a lot of places, and a G League tryout is as good a place as any to form one.

It was there that the Lakers spotted David Nwaba, an undrafted player who attended three colleges. They swung a deal to get him added to their developmental team, and before they knew it, he was on the court with the NBA team.

That he didn’t find continued success with the Lakers doesn’t matter. That the team unearthed a player who has now appeared in 237 NBA games — starting 50 of them — seemingly out of thin air, that’s a skill that matters.

As the Lakers head into transaction season without draft picks or cap space, it’ll again fall on them to make something out of nothing, a significant challenge for any front office.

Fortunately, the Lakers front office — from general manager Rob Pelinka to consultant Kurt Rambis to scouting department folks like Joey and Jesse Buss to personnel director Nick Mazzella — has built a track record of finding role players from non-traditional routes. After hitting a home run with undrafted free agent Austin Reaves a season ago, the Lakers head into this draft season again on the hunt for players who can contribute sooner rather than later.

The plan with Reaves didn’t originally call for him to become one of the Lakers’ most reliable players.

Joey Buss laughed when he remembered thinking Reaves would be in the G League playing for the South Bay Lakers all season. That plan, for a number of reasons, including Reaves’ advanced game, quickly changed.

It’s usually a slower burn, Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker examples of players who used time with the G League before carving out NBA roles. The group also has had success drafting late in the first round, where players like Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart far outperformed their draft positions. Second-round picks like Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant have proven to be productive players and are a part of the Lakers’ scouting success.

It’s probably the situation the Lakers will be in again this offseason, though their roster issues make them an attractive landing spot for players who go undrafted.

The combination of potential playing time, a proven developmental track record, access to tremendous star power and as good of a G League living situation in El Segundo as any in the league should push the Lakers to the front of the line for anyone who doesn’t get picked.

The Lakers held their 10th group draft workout on Tuesday, a process that’s shown just how wide of a net they’ve cast. Shareef O’Neal never scored in double figures in college, but with size, skill and top-notch genetics (his dad is Shaquille), what’s the harm in a look?

The team also has worked out a number of draft prospects closer to their mid-20s than their teens, a sign of the times after the NCAA allowed players an extra year of eligibility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scouts around the league view those kinds of players to be more equipped to make a quicker impact. While insiders feel that the Lakers will aggressively try to acquire a pick in the second round, they’ll likely have a narrow focus on players who project as possible role players, the team still hunting for versatile wing defenders and shooters.

They’re not the only ones looking for players like that, but at least the Lakers can feel comfortable with their chances of finding an impact player. After all, they’ve done it before.

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