The Greatest Drafted Lakers Of All-Time
Historically, the Los Angeles Lakers have had a tradition of taking top draft picks and molding them into some of the brightest stars the league has ever seen. With the 2019 NBA Draft quickly approaching, headliners of the draft include RJ Barrett, Ja Morant, and of course the most advertised amateur athlete since LeBron James, Zion Williamson. Even with the Lakers odds of landing one of these stars being slim, I wanted to reminisce on the most historic franchise in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers, and look back at the organization’s history of top picks that turned into some of the most dazzling stars the game has ever seen.
Baylor, Worthy, West, And Johnson Round Out Greatest Drafted Lakers
4. Elgin Baylor
The number 1 draft pick in the 1958 class, signing for a whopping $20,000 a year (equivalent to over $155,000,000 today), Baylor was a career 27, 12, and 4 guy, who has a filled resume that includes the 1958 Rookie of the Year for averaging 24.9 ppg, a 10-time All-NBA player, and an 11-time All-Star.
A natural scorer, Baylor has recorded 71 points in a game, holds the NBA Finals single-game scoring record with 64 points, and averaged an incredible 38.3 ppg for the ’61-’62 season. Because Baylor couldn’t secure a championship banner for the Lakers, mainly because of the brilliance of Bill Russel, we find him at fourth on this list.
3. “Big Game James” Worthy
If anyone in sports has a reputation that lives up to his nickname, it’s James Worthy. Countless times through the mid-1980s, Worthy had monstrous games in a highly competitive western conference, and even more significantly, in the finals. Often against Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics.
Being one of the most athletic players of his time, Worthy helped introduce the “ShowTime” offense by his high flying/vicious dunking, ability to finish with either hand and finesse finger roll finishes. While he was best known for his ability to get ahead of the defense and finish with the best of them, Worthy was also tremendously gifted as a shooter.
He had a deadly turnaround jumper, typically embarrassing slower defenders with his footwork. In his career, Worthy averaged 21, 5, and 3. However, as a 3-time NBA champion, with a finals MVP, Big Game James finds himself on this list at number 3 all time.
2. “The Logo” Jerry West
The image of Jerry West driving towards the basket with his left hand has, and will continue to be, the image that symbolizes the NBA. While Jerry West is the only logo in the history of the league, he also has an achievement no one else has either, winning the Finals MVP after losing the series.
West averaged 37.9, 4.7, and 7.4 in a fiercely competitive seven-game series with the Boston Celtics. Though on the losing end, West convinced voters with his once in a lifetime performance that he was the most valuable and dominant player on either side. More recent finals award voters may not have given him the award. After all, we are in an era where Andre Iguodala was awarded the 2015 Finals MVP for his defense, after the guy he was guarding averaged 35, 13, and 8, and was the most dominant player in the series by a wide margin.
West was an extraordinarily unique player for his era, and it translated to being one of the most dominant players the NBA has ever seen, averaging 27 points per game for his career. Not only is West one of the Lakers best players ever but is often considered a top 10 player in all of NBA history.
1. Ervin “Magic” Johnson
His name says it all. The skills Ervin Johnson displayed with a basketball, whether it be his dribbling ability, no look passes, or unprecedented finishing ability, were in fact, as his name suggests, Magic. Listed at 6’9, Magic had the body of a power forward, with the skill set of a guard, ultimately making him the best point guard to ever play.
While I could talk endlessly about his passing ability, how he conducted an offense like no one else did or has his will to win, or clutch performance after clutch performance, I’ll just say this, Magic Johnson won championships. In his 13-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic was able to bring the Larry O’ Brien trophy home an almost unrivaled five times.
Recognized as the league’s best player for much of his career, Magic had a career average of 19.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 11.2 apg. In the era of the Larry Bird-led Celtics, Magic was willing to do whatever it took to win, including playing center when Hall of Famer and partner in crime Kareem Abdul Jabbar was out with an injury.
Magic has cemented himself as the best point guard to ever do it, unquestionably a winner, and a guy who bleeds purple and gold, ultimately making it an easy decision having him top the list as the Greatest Drafted Laker.
*Because Kobe Bryant was originally drafted by the Hornets, and then traded to the Lakers on draft night, he is disqualified from this list.