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The Worst Draft Mistakes In Los Angeles Lakers History: Jayson Tatum And Devin Booker Would Wear Purple And Gold Today

The Worst Draft Mistakes In Los Angeles Lakers History: Jayson Tatum And Devin Booker Would Wear Purple And Gold Today

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history. They are one of two organizations to have 17 NBA championships, along with their bitter rival, the Boston Celtics. From West and Baylor to Magic and Kareem to Shaq and Kobe, the Lakers have yielded some of the greatest teams to ever step foot on an NBA court. However, even franchises as successful as the Lakers have made mistakes when it comes to the NBA Draft.

The term mistake is certainly used loosely in this context. It is understood that players are drafted based on team needs and play style/fit. It is also understood that the NBA Draft is a crapshoot, and it can mean glory or disaster for a franchise. The Lakers have done a tremendous job over the years, from their scouts and coaches up to general management and ownership. There are still some picks I am sure they wish they could go back and take over, considering the results.

Here are the worst draft picks in Los Angeles Lakers history:

Jim McMillan (1970 NBA Draft) - 13th Overall Pick

Jim McMillan

Better Available Pick: Tiny Archibald - 19th Overall Pick

The Lakers probably weren’t even thinking about drafting a point guard when the 1970 Draft rolled around. Jerry West was still pretty productive even though he would only be active for 4 more seasons. The Lakers instead chose to go with Jim McMillan, a small forward out of Columbia University. McMillan would have back-to-back seasons of at least 18.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 1972 and 1973. He would be traded to the Buffalo Braves for Elmore Smith after the 1972-73 season. By 1979 and at just 29 years old, McMillan would be out of the league and playing overseas in Italy.

The player drafted at No.19 overall, Tiny Archibald, would go on to become one of the best point guards of his time. The same season in which McMillan was shipped out of L.A., Archibald led the NBA in PPG with 34.0 PPG and in APG with 11.4 APG. He is just one of 12 players in NBA history to record 20.0 PPG and 10.0 APG in the same season. Archibald would evolve into a prolific 25.0 PPG and 7.0 APG player consistently who was rewarded with 6 All-Star selections in his career. He would also be a key piece of the 1980-81 NBA champion Boston Celtics. Could you imagine if it was Archibald that led the transition period between Jerry West and Magic Johnson?

Earl Tatum (1976 NBA Draft) - 21st Overall Pick

Earl Tatum

Better Available Pick: Alex English - 23rd Overall Pick

Earl Tatum was a shooting guard out of Marquette, often referred to as “The Black Jerry West”. Tatum averaged 1.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG in his senior season at Marquette and was geared to make waves in the NBA ranks. Despite the high expectations, Tatum would play just 93 games with the Lakers before he was shipped out of town in a package that landed the Lakers Adrian Dantley and Dave Robisch. He peaked in 1978, his 2nd season, when he averaged 14.3 PPG between the Lakers and Pacers. He would be out of basketball by the 1980-81 season lasting just 4 total seasons in the NBA.

The man picked 2 spots later, Alex English, became one of the game’s greatest scorers for the Denver Nuggets. English had a slow start to his career with the Bucks before he was traded out of town and finally found a home with Denver. English would go on to have 8 straight 2,000-point seasons and 8 straight All-Star selections. He would end up being the leading total points scorer of the 1980s while leading the Nuggets to new franchise heights. He was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1997. Just think, we could have seen Alex English, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the Lakers Big 3 during the 1980s.

Kenny Carr (1977 NBA Draft) - 6th Overall Pick

Kenny Carr

Better Available Pick: Bernard King - 7th Overall Pick

With the 6th overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft, the Lakers decided to go with 6’7” power forward Kenny Carr out of NC State. Carr was pretty successful at NC State, averaging 26.6 PPG and 10.3 RPG in 30 games his sophomore season. Carr’s career was short-lived with the Lakers, only lasting two and a half seasons in purple and gold. He broke his foot in his rookie season, costing him 5 weeks of action. He was then buried on the bench behind Spencer Haywood and Jim Chones and only appeared in 6 games before being traded away to Cleveland. Carr would go on to enjoy a steady 10-year career before calling it quits in 1987.

Bernard King would go on to become a New York legend and a consistent 20.0 PPG and 5.5 RPG threat almost right away. King would become a 4x All-Star and 4x All-NBA Team selection in his 16-year NBA career. He led the NBA in scoring in 1985, with the Knicks averaging 32.9 PPG in 55 appearances. Had it not been for a devastating knee injury in 1985, King probably would have brought a championship to New York, but he was forced to miss over an entire year as he had his knee reconstructed. He would return to form once more with the Washington Bullets averaging 22.0 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 4 seasons with the team. He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2013.

Mike McGee (1981 NBA Draft) - 19th Overall Pick

Mike McGee

Better Available Pick: Larry Nance - 20th Overall Pick

Mike McGee spent the first 6 seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers after being drafted in 1981 and would become a 2x NBA champion because of it. At the time of the NBA Draft, the Lakers decided they needed some backup for Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper rather than a power forward like Larry Nance. McGee was a serviceable option for the Lakers, as he averaged 11.2 PPG in 17 playoff games during the 1985 NBA title run. He would only spend 1 more season with the Lakers and go on to become a reserve for the Hawks, Kings, Suns, and Nets, never reaching the minimal status he once had with L.A. again.

Drafted by the Suns directly after McGee, Larry Nance made his presence known from the minute he stepped foot on the floor. He split 14 seasons with the Suns and Cavaliers, becoming a 3x All-Star and 3x All-Defensive Team selection. Most of his damage was done in Cleveland, where he became an icon averaging 16.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 2.5 BPG in 433 games. He helped lead the Cavaliers to 5 postseason appearances in his 7 years, including a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992. Nance may not have been a Hall of Famer, but he certainly is well remembered around the NBA than Mike McGee.

Anthony Peeler (1992 NBA Draft) - 15th Overall Pick

Anthony Peeler

Better Available Pick - Latrell Sprewell - 24th Overall Pick

To be fair, the 1992 NBA Draft was not exactly loaded with talent. Nevertheless, the Lakers selected Anthony Peeler with the 15th overall pick. Peeler spent 4 years at Missouri, whereby his senior season, he was averaging 23.4 PPG and 3.9 APG. He would spend 4 seasons with the Lakers, mostly coming off of the bench behind Eddie Jones. Peeler averaged 10.6 PPG in his 4 years in L.A. before being traded in 1996 for draft picks.

Meanwhile, Sprewell was special during his first few years with the Golden State Warriors. Sprewell was an All-Star and All-NBA Team selection by his second season when he averaged 21.0 PPG. He would earn 2 more All-Star appearances in Golden State with a career year in 1996-97 at 24.2 PPG and 6.3 APG. Sprewell would go on to be a vital part of a New York Knicks team that went to the NBA Finals in 1999. Despite a few off-the-court issues, Sprewell was at one point a star in the NBA, which Peeler was not.

D’Angelo Russell (2015 NBA Draft) - 2nd Overall Pick

D'Angelo Russell

Better Available Pick: Devin Booker - 13th Overall Pick

By no means was D’Angelo Russell bad in his 2 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he wasn’t the player he eventually turned into. Russell attempted to tear apart the locker room, and it eventually got him shipped out. Russell and teammate Nick Young had been at odds over an incident where Russell recorded Youn supposedly cheating on his then-girlfriend, Iggy Azalea. Russell became an All-Star with the Nets his first season there with 21.1 PPG and 7.0 APG. He has become quite the piece for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their recent success as well.

Despite Russell’s success, he is nowhere near the level that Devin Booker has reached. Booker has quickly become the Suns’ best offensive weapon averaging at least 22.0 PPG since his 2nd season, and earned 3 straight All-Star appearances. In 2021, Booker led the Suns to the NBA Finals, where they eventually lost in 6 games to the Bucks. They don’t get that far without the aid of Booker. In 2022, Booker averaged a career-high 28.8 PPG and shot a career-high 38.3% from three-point range. He also earned the first All-NBA First Team of his career this past season. Russell by no means is a bust, but when compared to the things that Booker is doing right now, it is no doubt who the better choice would have been for the Lakers.

Lonzo Ball (2017 NBA Draft) - 2nd Overall Pick

Lonzo Ball

Better Available Pick: Jayson Tatum - 3rd Overall Pick

Lonzo Ball didn’t begin to come into his own as an NBA talent until he left Los Angeles. He’s not what we would consider bad by any means. It’s just that the guy drafted after him is on a completely different level. Lonzo showed flashes of stardom in L.A. but never took the leap that would make him worthy of a No.2 pick. He spent just 2 seasons with the Lakers before he was promptly shipped out as a part of the deal that brought Anthony Davis to town. It was in New Orleans that his two-way play shined as he averaged career-highs in points and steals. The only knock on Ball that anyone can have is his ability to stay healthy. He has played just 90 games the past 2 seasons.

Jayson Tatum, on the other hand, is on the verge of superstardom. He is a 3x All-Star whose numbers keep getting better and better each year. His offensive game has grown exponentially in his 5 seasons, morphing into one of the elite weapons in the NBA today. His defensive game has evolved the same way, becoming a big part of the reason the Celtics had the No.1 ranked defense in 2022. He led the Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance in over a decade this past season, falling just short in 6 games to the Golden State Warriors in 6 games. Both of these young stars have a bright future ahead of them in this league, but Tatum is already ascending to further heights than Ball may be capable of.

De’Andre Hunter (2019 NBA Draft) - 4th Overall Pick

De’Andre Hunter

Better Available Pick: Darius Garland - 5th Overall Pick

De’Andre Hunter never stepped foot on the court as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He was drafted 4th overall in 2019 but traded just a few weeks later as an add-on in the Anthony Davis deal. He was then traded the very next day to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Hunter has been a solid player in the Hawks lineup for the past 3 seasons, that is when he can stay healthy. He has played in just 76 games in the past 2 years. When he is on the floor, he has been a solid scorer from all three levels while guarding the opposing team’s best player whenever he has the chance. Hunter possesses immense potential, but the player picked right after him could solve all their problems.

Darius Garland has been at the forefront of the youth movement with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2022, Garland became an All-Star while averaging 21.7 PPG and 8.6 APG on 46.2% shooting from the field. Garland played 68 games with Cleveland this season, the most he has played in his 3 seasons with the team. The Cavs earned a spot in the play-in tournament but fell to the Nets and Hawks. Garland, along with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, have Cleveland fans as excited as they have been in the post-LeBron era. Could you imagine if Garland had somehow managed to stay in LA and the Lakers could have avoided the whole Russell Westbrook debacle? The entire direction of the franchise could have changed for the better.

The Lakers Will Always Bounce Back

The fact that there are only 8 blunders in the draft history of the Lakers is impressive. There are only 8 instances since their inception in 1946 that can be brought to attention as a “mistake”. Currently, the Lakers find themselves in quite the predicament. Fresh off of a disappointing season that saw them miss the playoffs, the Lakers find themselves at a crossroads of sorts.

LeBron James is undecided on a 2-year extension with the Lakers and something could happen with that as soon as August 4th. Anthony Davis has been marred by injuries for the better part of 2 seasons since the Lakers' title run in 2020. The Russell Westbrook experiment has been a total failure, as he has failed to mesh with his new teammates. Even further, the Lakers have been unable to find someone willing to match Westbrook’s salary in a trade and they are unwilling to attach a 2nd draft pick to the deal. With new Coach Darvin Ham and a few younger pieces added this offseason, the Lakers’ future is up in the air. If history is an indication of anything, however, it is that the Lakers always find their way back to the top.  


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