LOS ANGELES—It’s entirely possible that Game 3 of the NBA Finals determined the course of the 2015 NBA Draft.
Punch drunk from the relentless hustle and drive of a motivated Cleveland Cavaliers team, the Golden State Warriors flipped the script on the series when they opted to play small ball, sliding forward Draymond Green into the center position and swappin Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup in favor of thumping center Andrew Bogut.
Fast forward two weeks and two picks into the NBA draft, to a moment when the Los Angeles Lakers flipped the script on conventional wisdom in passing-up on center Jahil Okafor in favor of point guard D’Angelo Russell.
The move was a bold reaction to the Splash Brothers phenomenon, an early development in the evolution of the NBA as we know it.
In choosing Russell, the Lakers made the statement that when teams like the Warriors and the inevitable band of copycats that will follow go to the small ball strategy, they too will be able to shoot the basketball and run teams ragged with fastbreak points.
Though some labeled the Ohio State star a dark horse for the number two pick, the sight of Russell and not Okafor taking the stage in purple and gold still came as a shock, including for Russell himself.
“I didn’t know at all,” said Russell on his selection. “I didn’t know at all, man. I’m still in shock.”
Regardless, it’s hard to say the Lakers could have gone wrong with either player, both studs in their own right that appear all but locks to make an instant impact for their respective teams.
Though Los Angeles is now far better equipped to compete with the slew of incredible point guards that reside in the Western Conference, free agency may yet prove the team is not entirely committed to running the floor with small ballers.
Waiting in the wings is All-Star big man Lamarcus Aldridge, an incredibly gifted seven footer who can hurt teams both inside and out.
Aldridge, who’s name has been linked to the Lakers since it became apparent he would not be returning to the Portland Trailblazers, would afford Los Angeles the opportunity to play big or small, moving Aldridge between the four and the five position depending on the style they wish to play.
If that free agency coup is pulled-off, the Lakers, paradoxically the laughingstock of the NBA in 2014-15, could prove material for must-watch television in an NBA season that remains torturously far away.