Likely Undrafted Free Agents LA Lakers Should Keep Tabs on After 2014 Draft
The Los Angeles Lakers received a consolation prize for their disastrous season—the No. 7 overall pick. It’s unfamiliar territory for a team that typically drafts late in the second round.
With a completely depleted roster, the Lakers will be paying close attention long after they make their one, and only, selection. Those who fall completely off the boards are scrutinized carefully by all 30 NBA teams, of course.
Some rookie free agents will get summer league invites, others will head overseas, and many will drift out of basketball altogether.
Last summer, the Lakers were impressed by the hustle of Elias Harris, a 6’8” forward from Gonzaga who hadn't been selected in the draft. A native of Germany, he earned an unguaranteed rookie contract but appeared in just two games before being waived.
Nick Minnerath, a wild card from Cape Cod, also received a camp invite but turned LA down, choosing instead to play for Obradoiro CAB in the Spanish ACB League.
And who can forget Slava Medvedenko, the undrafted power forward from the Ukraine who signed with the Lakers in 2000, often ignoring the rules of the triangle offense yet lasting six seasons nonetheless and picking up two rings in the process.
The Lakers will be back at it again this summer, picking through the leftovers and hoping for a gem. The following are five players with uncertain fates in this year’s draft—one that is particularly deep and interesting.
Markel Brown, Oklahoma State, 6'4", SG/PG, Senior
Projected Draft Range: Late second round to undrafted
The Lakers will give strong consideration to selecting Marcus Smart as their No. 7 pick this year. It’s somewhat remarkable that Smart’s backcourt partner at Oklahoma State—Markel Brown—could actually slip off the board altogether.
Brown is entering the draft as a senior and usually played shooting guard, except when filling in at the point for Smart. They were both prolific scorers—Brown averaged 17.2 points in 35.3 minutes per game over 34 games this past season, while Smart averaged 18 points in 32.7 minutes for 31 games.
A hard worker, Brown’s shooting percentage increased each year in college. He’s also a solid rebounder who averaged 5.1 boards this past season. So what’s the problem?
Part of it is his size—he’s small for an NBA shooting guard and would have to show improvement with his ball-handling and passing to be considered a true point guard threat. Additionally, he wasn’t known for having a consistent perimeter shot early in his college career, although he has shown improvement since then.
And then, some of it's just a matter of comparison.
Writing for Tulsa World in March, Kelly Hines quoted ESPN analyst Jay Bilas with respect to Brown:
He plays a complete game. He's a good defender. If he weren't playing on the same team as Marcus Smart, you'd see him as the lead dog, a guy who would be all-Big 12. It probably takes a little bit of the spotlight off him because Marcus Smart is so good, but I don't think there's any better 1-2 punch in the league or the country than Smart and Brown.
Brown is one of those classic tweeners—he’s athletic and can finish strong at the basket, although he often prefers to shoot mid-range jumpers. Who knows—if he goes undrafted, maybe the Oklahoma backcourt could reunite in Purple and Gold.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State, 6'4", PG, Senior
Projected Draft Range: Undrafted
One of the most typical knocks that you’ll hear against DeAndre Kane is his age—he’ll turn 25 on June 10. It’s been a long and volatile journey to the NBA draft.
Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports wrote about Kane’s childhood in Pittsburgh’s tough Hill District, how he learned basketball on a streetball court and how his high school girlfriend was shot dead in a drive-by. In Kane’s own words:
It's really difficult, coming from where I'm from. You just can't get caught up in that life. There's always guys there that should've been, that could've been, were supposed to be that person — but the streets took over. In the Hill District you can get caught up like that. There's a lot of guys there that are your friends, that want to do right by you. But at the same time they're the guys that are saying, 'Let's go to this party. Let's go drink. Let's go smoke.
Kane attended Marshall for four years but redshirted his freshman season as a partial academic qualifier. He averaged 15.6 points per game for the next three seasons and transferred to Iowa State as a grad student, where he blossomed under coach Fred Hoiberg.
This past season, Kane averaged 17.1 points, 6.8 boards and 5.9 assists in 36 games. At 6’4” and 200 pounds, he’s a tough, versatile point guard who can defend three positions. He goes strong to the hole and has the strength to absorb contact, finish and draw the foul as well.
And while his perimeter shooting was perceived to be a weakness during three seasons at Marshall, he improved drastically at Iowa State, shooting .398 from behind the arc.
Per the Fox article, Hoiberg had this to say: "He's just a basketball player. He's not a one, not a two, not a three — he's a basketball player. Versatility is his biggest strength. He can really defend. He's got great feet. He does things that translate to that next level."
Walter Tavares, Gran Canaria, 7’3”, C
Projected Draft Range: Mid-second round to undrafted
The Los Angeles Lakers managed to pick up two decent frontcourt players in the late stages of the last two drafts—Robert Sacre at No. 60 in 2012 and Ryan Kelly at No. 48 last year.
They’re going to need more than that if Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman exit stage left during this summer’s free-agency period.
Maybe the Lakers will draft an elite frontcourt prospect with their No. 7 pick, and maybe they won’t. They’ll still need big bodies, and what better way to audition than via the plethora of tall trees that may not get drafted at all?
Presenting Walter Tavares, born in the Republic of Verde off the western coast of Africa and currently playing in the Spanish league. Standing 7’3”, he has an unheard-of wingspan of 7’9”. And he can play the pick-and-roll on both ends of the floor. He also has enough weight to bang in the post at 265 pounds.
Enrique Castellano of Pro Basketball Draft describes how a 16-year-old kid began playing for Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, having never touched a basketball before. That was just four years ago: “The best way to describe his game is as a 'rim protector'. Simply, he is one of the best in Europe right now. He is leading the ACB (Spanish 1st Division) in blocked shots with 2.16 per game in only 20 minutes.”
Check out the DraftExpress scouting video here.
Kristaps Porzingis, Cajasol Sevilla, 7’0”, PF/C
Projected Draft Range: Late first round to Undrafted
Kristaps Porzingis is one of those supertall, skinny Euro ballers, hailing from Latvia and currently playing for Cajasol Sevilla in the Spanish ACB.
He won’t turn 19 until August, and nobody really knows where he’ll get drafted—if at all. His package of size, skill and agility could help him rise in the order, however, come the night of June 26.
Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report offers some perspective:
At 7'0", he's extremely light on his feet. He can fly up and down the floor or lift off high above the rim. Offensively, he's got the foot speed and body control to put it on the deck and attack the rim. And he can knock down shots in a variety of different ways from all over the floor.
Porzingis only weighs 220 pounds at present and will need to bulk up in order to be an effective defensive presence in the NBA. That’s sometimes easier said than done with these young European saplings.
Josh Huestis, Stanford, 6’8”, SF, Senior
Projected Draft Range: Late second round to undrafted
It’s hard to know where Josh Huestis could wind up—the four-year man out of Stanford doesn’t have that much of an offensive game, but he’s a hard worker with good size and skills at the other end of the floor.
He is 6’8” with an impressive 7’1” wingspan and can guard multiple positions. He gets up and down the floor quickly and has a nose for blocking shots and cleaning the glass—qualities the Lakers could sorely use, especially from a small forward.
In fact, Huestis holds the record for blocked shots at Stanford with 190 in his career.
Like many bubble players, there’s a catch—he just doesn’t seem to have a burning desire to score the ball. It’s not that his jump-shooting mechanics are all that bad, however, and there’s the hope that he can develop a reliable stroke.
He played center in high school and made the transition to power forward and then to the wing at Stanford.
Before I got to college I never stepped outside the paint. Got to college—long transition to the 3, but it’s come along really well. My ball-handling’s gotten better and it can get even tighter. My shooting’s gotten a lot better and that’s something I can keep improving.
The Lakers just finished a losing season that essentially turned into an audition process for young minimum-salary players on one-year contracts. The emphasis under then-coach Mike D’Antoni was on putting up points, not defensive intensity.
Now, with a stripped-out roster and an ongoing search for D’Antoni’s replacement, any future direction is open for debate.
Each of the five players listed here brings something to the table and should at least be tracked if any of them fail to land in the 2014 draft.