The recent dominance of the Golden State Warriors has shown the importance of using the draft to build a successful team. Finding and cultivating young players is key to managing payroll and building a deep unit that embraces the vision of coaches and management. Lottery picks are usually chosen for their immediate impact to losing teams, but sometimes the greatest value are players selected with lower picks.
The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, are perhaps the most storied franchise in the NBA. One of the reasons is their ability to find gems later in the draft. While initially picked by Brooklyn, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, Utah, respectively, but then traded on draft night, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart are prime examples of the Lakers’s non-lottery drafting prowess. In no particular order, here are just a few of their previous success stories.
When people remember the early “Showtime” Laker teams, they usually think of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, Norm Nixon was a key contributor to their 1980 and 1982 championships, leading the team in scoring for the 1982 playoffs. Initially a point guard, he unselfishly shared those duties when Johnson was drafted. A deadly shooter and distributor, he was eventually traded after six seasons to the Phoenix Suns for the draft rights to Byron Scott.
Every team needs a player in the trenches to do the dirty work of rebounding and setting hard picks, and A.C. Green embraced that role for the Lakers. A rugged and unrelenting player, Green deservedly earned the nickname “Iron Man” for his record of most consecutive games played at 1,192. Green missed a mere three games in the second of his 16 NBA seasons, and the streak ended only when he retired. He won back-to-back championships with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988, and ended his career winning another with the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal team of 2000. Green led the Lakers in rebounding in six of his eight seasons with the team.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to Michael Cooper is that Larry Bird pegged him as the toughest defender he ever faced, and they had plenty of face-offs throughout the 1980s. A tenacious defender, Cooper also was one of the first players to exploit the three-point shot. He was always a fan favorite in part to his high-flying slam dunks off soaring passes from Magic Johnson, dubbed the “Coop-a-Loop” by legendary announcer Chick Hearn. In addition to his five titles with the Lakers as a player, Cooper also won back-to-back championships as a coach in the WNBA and one in the NBA Development League. He still coaches in the three-on-three Big 3 League.
The 1996 draft was loaded with players like Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Marcus Camby, Allen Iverson, and Steve Nash. The hands-down steal of the year was Derek Fisher. Paired with Bryant for most of his career, the two won five championships together. Considered undersized by many, he was usually still the toughest player on the court. He was known for his dogged defense, heady play, and clutch shooting with multiple game-winning shots in the playoffs and Finals. Perhaps most importantly for the Lakers, though, he was also one player Bryant always trusted and respected. His fellow players held the same opinion, choosing Fisher to head the National Basketball Players Association in 2006.
Perhaps best known as the current coach of the Lakers and former assistant coach of the Warriors, Luke Walton was also a championship player in his own right. The son of legendary center Bill Walton, the younger Walton won two championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010. Always an intelligent player with a high basketball IQ, it often seemed as if the Lakers had three coaches on the court when he played alongside Kobe and Fisher. As an interim coach for the Warriors in 2015, he led the team to a 39-4 start, including a record 24 straight wins to open the season. When head coach Steve Kerr accepted the NBA Coach of the Year Award at the end of the season, he had Walton sit next to him at the podium. Walton is currently the head coach of the Lakers and hopes to add more championships to his current total of three.