Lakers leaning toward drafting Jahlil Okafor over D’Angelo Russell

Duke's Jahlil Okafor was the first freshman to become ACC player of the year.

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor was the first freshman to become ACC player of the year.

(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

The Lakers are leaning toward selecting Jahlil Okafor in Thursday’s NBA draft, The Times has learned, giving the Duke center a late edge over Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell.

The front office has debated which player to take, liking the instant post offense of Okafor but also the playmaking ability of Russell.

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak is known to say a good big man is more important than a good little man, but nothing will be set in stone until the team makes the second overall selection in the draft.


The Lakers will be on the clock at about 4:35 p.m. Pacific time, and teams are allowed five minutes for first-round picks. The Lakers also own the 27th and 34th selections.

There is only a 10% chance they make a trade Thursday with the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins, according to a person familiar with the situation.

In fact, the person says there is a 50% chance the Lakers take Okafor, 30% chance they take Russell, 10% chance they trade the pick and 10% chance they take Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, who is 7-foot-1 and has three-point range.

The Kings want a lot for Cousins, their All-Star center, and they also have time on their side: Cousins has three more years and almost $51 million remaining on his contract.

The Lakers are unwilling to part with forward Julius Randle because they like how he has lost 20 pounds and improved his outside shot. Randle was drafted seventh overall last year but sustained a season-ending broken leg on opening night.

Randle is not untouchable, but the Lakers are reluctant to think of him as a throw-in for a trade.


Okafor, 19, was the first freshman to become ACC player of the year. He averaged 17.3 points for Duke, showing a strong display of post moves that included quick spins and a face-up jump shot.

His point-scoring potential might be unrivaled in this draft and could outweigh the fact that Okafor is not a shot blocker despite being listed at 6-11. Another thing he’ll need to work on is his free-throw shooting -- 51% at Duke.

Russell, 19, shot a commendable 41% from three-point range in his only season at Ohio State but didn’t shoot well at times when the Lakers scouted him.

He was more erratic than Okafor in general, scoring 28 points against VCU in Ohio State’s first game of the NCAA tournament but following it up with only nine points on three-of-19 shooting as the Buckeyes were eliminated by Arizona.

Russell eased some of the Lakers’ concerns about his shooting with solid in-person workouts.

Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns is expected to go No. 1 overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves.


Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan