Lakers have a big/little decision: Jahlil Okafor or D'Angelo Russell?

Lakers have a big/little decision: Jahlil Okafor or D'Angelo Russell?
Duke star Jahlil Okafor works outwiththe Los Angeles Lakers at their practice facility in El Segundo on June 9. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Big or small?

It's still being debated within the Lakers organization before Thursday's NBA draft.

Conventional wisdom says they will use the No. 2 overall pick to take Jahlil Okafor, the Duke center who earned Tim Duncan comparisons while leading the Blue Devils to the NCAA championship.

But the NBA's recent shift to a space-and-pace mind-set — thank you, Golden State — is partly why the Lakers are strongly considering Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell after he shot extremely well during a workout for the team last weekend.

The Lakers initially had questions about his outside touch after scouting Russell during Ohio State's season but later chalked it up to a coincidental erratic performance while they were in attendance.

Russell shot 41.1% from three-point range at Ohio State while averaging 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and five assists as a freshman. He is 6 feet 5 and sometimes described as a taller version of Chris Paul.

If the Lakers take Russell, they envision moving Jordan Clarkson to shooting guard, perhaps his more natural position, though Clarkson showed some skill at the point, averaging 15.8 points, five assists and 4.2 rebounds in 38 games as a starter.

One person familiar with the Lakers' thinking said Russell could be "something special."


But one person familiar with Okafor said the Lakers shouldn't pass him up, calling him "the best player in the draft."

"I think he's going to be an All-Star. There's really nobody like him," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Times. "That doesn't mean he's the greatest player of all time but . . . he's going to be a high double-double guy in the NBA.

"I'm not saying he's Duncan but he's got great touch like Duncan. He can use the glass. Very soft shot. He can pass so well from the low post. I would say he's a guy that can get four to six assists during the ballgame.

"I know he would love to be a Laker. I hope it works out that way."

Krzyzewski bristled at the main knock on Okafor — his defense, particularly in pick-and-roll situations.

"I really don't believe he's shown weakness in defense," Krzyzewski said. "What we couldn't afford was to have him be away from the basket, so we didn't have him step in and trap because that's what our opponent would want.

"He's got good feet. It's ridiculous to me for somebody to say he can't defend a ball screen. It's hard for me to imagine. I coach all the U.S. teams. He's a good defender. He's not an amazing shot-blocker but he moves his feet really well."

Krzyzewski expressed confidence that Okafor would improve his free-throw shooting — 51% in his only season at Duke. Okafor averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds at Duke.

Another possibility the Lakers weighed was Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis, who had created differing opinions within the organization. His 7-foot-1 size and outside touch intrigued the team, but he did not provide quite enough in workouts to warrant taking second overall, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay also was briefly considered at No. 2 but the team questioned his outside touch. His dynamic playmaking ability could not outweigh inconsistency from the perimeter in workouts.

The Lakers would snap up Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns if the Minnesota Timberwolves do not take him with the top pick, but there's only a small chance of that happening. Towns has declined to work out for the Lakers and his future in Minnesota appears to be a done deal.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan