Last week I evaluated general manager Mitch Kupchak’s track record drafting around the No. 32 pick, and the results are pretty solid. Knowing Mitch has a history of spotting talent in the early second round should get us excited when thinking about what he might be able to do with the Hornets No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft. Let’s see what Kupchak’s draft history with the Lakers tells us about his ability to spot talent at the top of the draft.
Despite being a general manager for two decades, Mitch has only selected four players in the Top 10. This is due in large part to the success the Lakers had in making the playoffs in 12 of Kupchak’s first 13 years leading the front office. While it’s a small sample size, here are the players Mitch has selected in the Top 10 along with the three players drafted immediately after Kupchak’s choices. Players who outperformed the players Kupchak chose are denoted with an asterisk.
No. 10 - Andrew Bynum (2005) - All-Star. People forget how good the 7-foot center center was because his career ended so abruptly. Bynum is the youngest player to ever appear in an NBA game just six days removed from his 18th birthday and came along slowly in his first two seasons. But between his third and seventh seasons he averaged 14.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game despite being limited by a rash of injuries. In his seventh season (2011-12) - and still just 25 years old - Bynum was named an All-Star after averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. But he also had a number of issues clashing with coaches and teammates and was traded by the Lakers after his All-Star year, then missed the entire 2012-13 season due to ongoing knee issues, then disappeared from the NBA after playing in 26 games in 2013-14. Next three players drafted: Fran Vazquez, Yaroslav Korolev, Sean May.
No. 7 - Julius Randle (2014) - Starter. Randle’s a polarizing player. He’s emerged as a legitimate 20 & 10 guy but some of his numbers feel like empty calories as he racks up good stats on bad teams. In six NBA seasons Randle has yet to appear in a playoff game. At 6-foot-8 he’s undersized for a post player and isn’t known for his defense. He also can’t shoot from deep and has hit just 29.5 percent of his career three-point attempts. Randle’s strengths are as obvious as his flaws and on the whole he’s a very good basketball player. He could clearly be a key part of a winning team, but not the focal point of one. Next three players drafted: Nik Stauskas, Noah Vonleh, Elfrid Payton.
No. 2 - D’Angelo Russell (2015) - All-Star(ish). Through five seasons Russell has played for four different teams. D’Angelo has averaged over 21 points and six assists in each of the last two seasons, but he’s also a career 42 percent shooter overall with a ho-hum 36 percent from the three-point line. He made the 2018-19 All-Star team in a very thin Eastern Conference as an injury replacement for Victor Oladipo, but I think most NBA observers would put him among the “very good” guards in the league, but not among the “great” ones. Next three players drafted: Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis*, Mario Hezonja.
No. 2 - Brandon Ingram (2016) - All-Star. After three promising seasons with the Lakers Ingram was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans at the beginning of this season and had a breakout year. After averaging 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and shooting 39 percent from the three-point line, he was named this year’s Most Improved Player and was voted an All-Star. Still just 23 years old, Ingram has the makings of an impact player for years to come. Next three players drafted: Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn.
Mich Kupchak’s four Top 10 picks have produced three All-Stars and one solid starter. When looking at the three players drafted after the players Mitch chose, the only real mistake he made was taking D’Angelo Russell over Kristaps Porzingis. That’s a very solid track record. If the talent is available in the 2020 draft, Mitch Kupchak should be trusted to find it with the No. 3 overall pick. The Hornets have a solid core of players. Let’s hope 2020 is the year they can put an All-Star in the mix.