When Mitch Kupchak, Byron Scott and the Los Angeles Lakers chose to go against the conventional thinking the organization has been known for throughout its existence – building around a big man – by passing on Jahlil Okafor with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the majority of the focus shifted to L.A.’s selection of D’Angelo Russell.
But after the following two picks were announced by commissioner Adam Silver, one team had to be consumed by the Atlantic Division ripple effect the Purple and Gold had just set off: The Brooklyn Nets.
By taking the crafty lefty point guard out of Ohio State, the Lakers put the Philadelphia 76ers in a position even they didn’t imagine becoming a reality. With the No. 3 pick in their hands, the Sixers had an opportunity to snatch Okafor – a player they never even brought in for a pre-draft workout – off the board.
Following L.A.’s hypothetically presumed selection of Okafor, many anticipated the 76ers would give the nod to Russell due to their lack of a franchise point guard. The concept of a division rival landing a guard that has drawn comparisons to last season’s triple-double machine Russell Westbrook had to be giving Nets general manager Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins migraines months in advance.
When the Lakers called an audible and went with Russell, however, the Sixers felt an obligation to go with the Okafor, the best player available. After witnessing the Golden State Warriors put the finishing touches on a title run earlier in the month through the presence of an elite point guard in Stephen Curry and a smaller lineup that didn’t feature a true center, Brooklyn had to be relieved that Philly was forced to settle for Okafor.
And if watching one division rival go in a potentially unexpected direction weren’t enough for the Nets to observe, what about two? Although Phil Jackson’s intrigue for Latvian 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis was no secret prior to the Draft, there seemed to be no doubt that New York would be more than happy to select Russell if the 76ers had turned their rumored attraction toward Porzingis into a commitment first.
Either way, the Nets knew they had to be prepared for a scenario involving Russell joining one of these Atlantic Division foes, but never saw it come to light.
They might just have the Lakers to thank for that.
Brooklyn has to be grateful not only considering the small-ball upsurge that is inevitably going to make its way across the NBA, but also because Russell was pegged by numerous evaluators as the best player available in the Draft – a superstar in the making.
Meanwhile, questions concerning both Okafor’s ineptitude on the defensive end and love for the game, as well as Porzingis’ slim build and perceived desire to spend the majority of his time on the perimeter shooting three-pointers, won’t cost the Nets as much sleep as seeing Russell in a Sixers or Knicks uniform would have.
If he hasn’t already, King might just have to send a huge Thank You basket to Kupchak someday.
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