The Los Angeles Lakers have drafted several legendary players with their first round picks over the franchise’s history. Hall of Fame inductees Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson and James Worthy were all first round picks for the Los Angeles Lakers and all have had memorable careers in Los Angeles with the Lakers. Other players, like Eddie Jones, A.C. Green and Vlade Divac were first round picks as well, as was former Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons, who has won nine NBA championships as an assistant coach.
The Lakers have had a lot of luck drafting players in the first round, but like every other team in the league, the Lakers have drafted some stinkers or have dealt away their first round pick for the purpose of acquiring established players who management thought would help the team right away. The acquisition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Milwaukee Bucks required the Lakers to trade three of their players who were taken in the first round, along with an additional player.
Looking back at their last 15 first round picks, there were some studs and some stinkers, just like with every other team in the league. This list ranks the last 15 first round picks from the lakers, from stinkers to studs.
18 Chris Jefferies (2002)
Chris Jefferies was the Lakers’ first round pick after winning the third of their three straight championships between 2000 and 2002. However, Jefferies never got the chance to play with the Lakers as he was traded on draft day along with Lindsey Hunter to Toronto for Tracy Murray and the draft rights to Kareem Rush, who was taken seven picks ahead of Jefferies. Jefferies was taken ahead of several players who ended up playing for the Lakers. Players such as Carlos Boozer and Matt Barnes were taken in the 2002 Draft behind Jefferies.
It is possible that Jefferies was traded because he would have had difficulty finding minutes at small forward behind Rick Fox, Devean George and Kobe Bryant, as Tracy Murray did during his single season in Los Angeles. Jefferies entire career lasted parts of two seasons and he was never able to make a name for himself in the NBA.
17 Toney Douglas (2009)
Because of the Lakers’ championship success, Toney Douglas is the most recent Lakers' first round pick who was selected by a Lakers team that had won the NBA Championship in the previous season. Toney was selected in the 2009 Draft, after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic for the NBA Championship. Unfortunately for Douglas, he was traded on draft night to the New York Knicks for a second round pick for two seasons later, which kept Douglas from capturing an NBA Championship with the Lakers in 2010.
Toney bounced around the league for the next couple of years, even playing in China. Douglas’ bad luck continued when he signed with the Heat after the team had won two consecutive titles, only to be on the team that lost to the Spurs. He then signed with the Cavs after their title run, but was cut during the preseason. Douglas still hasn't retired and is likely hoping to sign another short-term contract.
16 Sam Jacobson (1998)
When Sam Jacobsen was drafted, the Lakers were one of the best teams in the league, which means that the team was constantly making its selection at the end of each round. Sam Jacobson was a selection that was made at the end of the first round in 1998. The selection of Jacobson gave the appearance of selecting the best player available, but also showed that player selection is an inexact science, as several players selected after Jacobson had longer and more productive careers than his.
Jacobson appeared in five games for the Lakers during his one and a half seasons with the team. During his second season, Jacobson was traded to Golden State. After three years in the NBA, Jacobson’s American basketball career was finished. Jacobson was one of many draftees during the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant years that made little to no impact with the team or who was sent away before they grew into the player that they would eventually become.
15 Javaris Crittenton (2007)
The season before Javaris Crittenton was drafted, the Lakers had a lot of traffic at the point guard position. At the end of that season, three point guards left the team, but Derek Fisher returned to the team (more on him later) and the Lakers had drafted Jordan Farmar the season before (more on him later also). It seemed strange that the Lakers would draft a point guard when the team had five already on the roster, no true backup for Kobe, and players like Rudy Fernandez and Aaron Afflalo still available to be drafted.
Ever stranger in Crittenton’s Lakers career is the fact that the team traded him, along with another point guard and other players for Pau Gasol. While Pau was definitely worth the deal, the deal left the Lakers very thin at the point guard position.
Sadly, Javaris Crittenton will only be remembered for getting into a gun-waving confrontation with Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas. Crittenton was suspended from the league and his life has been filled with legal troubles ever since.
14 Brian Cook (2003)
As a player who was selected in the 2003 Draft, Brian Cook’s career will always be grouped in with the stars of that draft, namely LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh, Wade, and the many others who have played at an All-Star level. Even second pick Darko Miličić won an NBA title even though his career was less than stellar. However, Cook was one of the players in the draft who did not have the success of the players selected at the top of the draft.
Cook was a high-scoring forward coming out of college who struggled to find his shot as a pro. Also, coming to the Lakers when he did, he was coached by Phil Jackson, who typically was resistant to play rookies. With Jackson leaving after Cook’s rookie season, Cook started to gain his confidence with his shooting, but a stretch-four who wasn’t much of a passer or much of a defender was not going to play very much in the NBA. Cook bounced around the league, but was never able to be impactful with any franchise.
13 Mark Madsen (2000)
Many fans remember Mark Madsen for his dance during the parade after the Lakers won the 2001 NBA Championship. Sadly, that is the highlight of Madsen’s playing career, as he received very little playing time during his career and averaged less than 3 points-per-game with the Lakers.
Madsen, like Cook, was unfortunate in that he played for Phil Jackson as a rookie, because Jackson seldom played rookies. Where Madsen was different from Cook (or Toney Douglas) is that Madsen was able to be selected by a team that won a championship after he arrived. Madsen gained two championship rings with the Lakers before joining the Timberwolves.
Madsen’s career was short and uneventful, and he will never be remembered for anything that he did on a basketball court. However, because of his performance at the 2001 Lakers’ championship parade, he will always be an internet sensation because of his dance on the podium.
12 Larry Nance, Jr. (2015)
Some will question why Larry Nance, Jr. is ranked so high on a list of the last 15 Lakers' first round picks, considering his lack of numbers thus far. On a list that features players who were traded after being selected by the Lakers, players who are recovering from injury or who have yet to play significant minutes, and players who, despite winning titles, were not significant contributors, this spot is about where Nance belongs. Nance did not miss his rookie season with injury and has been a solid contributor for the team since his arrival.
Larry Nance, Jr. is not an All-Star level player yet, but he is one of the young players that the team is counting on to return the Lakers to prominence after the retirement of Kobe Bryant. Nance was a defensive ace in college, and these skills will make him extremely valuable to a roster that struggled to defend over the past few seasons.
11 Jordan Farmar (2006)
If the Lakers had not dealt their original pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the team would have been able to select Rajon Rondo or Kyle Lowry and the fate of the franchise might have been different. The team was searching for a point guard and these two were selected just before the Lakers selected Jordan Farmar. Farmar was considered one of the top point guards in the country during his college career, but he was unable to supplant Smush Parker, Aaron McKie and Shammond Williams for playing time and was assigned to the D-League.
The trio of guards all left the team after Farmar’s rookie season, but the return of Derek Fisher made it even more difficult for Farmar to gain playing time, though he would gain two championship rings with the Lakers. Farmar returned to the Lakers after two seasons in New Jersey, only to find the roster guard heavy and underachieving and he would leave after the end of the season. Farmar’s Laker career was underwhelming but he, like Madsen, was able to gain two championship rings during his time with the Lakers.
10 Brandon Ingram (2016)
Brandon Ingram is the most recent draft pick on the list, but he is ranked this high because the individuals ranked below him made no impact with the Lakers. Ingram’s position is based on expectation, because at the time of the draft, though Ben Simmons was selected first while Ingram was selected second, many experts felt that the Lakers actually ended up with the player who is destined to become the better professional.
The scouting reports on Ingram are that he has the skills to play every position on the floor except for the center position. He is a talented shooter and ball handler, and has speed to out maneuver bigger players, and strength and length to befuddle smaller players. Because of this, he is a mismatch problem. Ingram’s potential to be a great player is why he is ranked where he is on this list and Laker fans can only hope that he lives up to his potential and expectations, so that he can shoot up this list in the near future.
9 Julius Randle (2014)
After four seasons of drafting without having a pick in the first round, Julius Randle was the player that the Lakers selected that was being counted on to lead the resurgence of the Lakers as the future of the franchise. The Lakers had just endured their worst 82-game season ever and their second worst record percentage-wise ever. Randle was being counted on to help Kobe Bryant to turn the Lakers around, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
Randle injured his leg during his first official game and was sidelined for his entire rookie season while the Lakers suffered a worse season than the one before. Randle’s place on this list is based on the talent that he has shown when healthy and the fact that other players in the league feel that Randle has the tools to be one of the best players in the league. Only time will tell if these predictions come to fruition.
5 Sasha Vujačić (2004)
After losing in the 2004 NBA Finals, the Lakers drafted Sasha Vujačić in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft. Sasha came to the league with a reputation for being and exceptional ball handler, defender and scorer, and with the Lakers, he did not disappoint. Sasha played very little during his rookie season, but his minutes and scoring average increased over the next few seasons. In 2007, Sasha set the Lakers’ record for three-point percentage and, in 2010, Sasha became a part of Lakers playoff history.
During Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Sasha went to the free throw line late in the game and sank two free throws that helped the Lakers win the NBA Championship against the Boston Celtics. The victory gave Sasha Vujačić his second championship ring, and placed his name next to other Lakers who have made big plays or big shots in the NBA Finals.
4 Devean George (1999)
During the Lakers’ three-peat years of 2000-2002, there were seven players who were on all three teams. They were Shaq, Kobe, Horry, Fox, Fisher (who will be discussed later), Brian Shaw and Devean George. He was drafted just before the Lakers started winning championships and by the time that he left the team, George had three championship rings. Devean George will also forever be the answer to the trivia question of who the opening day starting small forward was in the Hall of Fame lineup of Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone & Gary Payton during the 2003-04 season. George was the starter because Rick Fox was injured and out of the lineup.
After seven seasons with the Lakers, George moved on to other teams and played a few more seasons before leaving the league. The only reason that George and his three titles are not ranked higher on the list is because though he has three rings and nearly won a fourth, George was never more than a minor role player with the Lakers.
3 D'Angelo Russell (2015)
D’Angelo Russell was the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft. He was taken before Jahlil Okafor, while the experts were debating which player should have been taken by the Lakers. After selecting guard Jordan Clarkson the season before (in the second round) and watching him become a steady player for the team, the Lakers knew that they needed to reassemble the backcourt once Kobe Bryant retired, and the Lakers selected Russell, and then forward Larry Nance, Jr. later in the round, giving the team first or second year players at every position but center.
Since he has been in the league, Russell has firmly established himself as the team’s starting point guard and a potential NBA superstar. While he was setting rookie offensive standards for the Lakers, Russell also lead all rookies in steals. Russell earns this spot on the list because he has the looks of a player who will be a star in the league for years to come, more so than his fellow young Lakers.
2 Andrew Bynum (2005)
Until something changes, Andrew Bynum will be listed in NBA history as the last player to come to the NBA directly from high school and be named to the NBA All-Star game. As of this writing, Bynum is also the last Lakers draft pick to be named to the All-Star game. Bynum spent seven seasons with the Lakers and during his time with the club, Bynum was a crucial part of two NBA Championships in three trips to the NBA Finals.
Injury and irresponsibility created a situation where the Lakers traded Bynum to Philadelphia in a deal that brought Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. Bynum spent another couple of years in the league before his knees would not allow him to play up to the All-Star level that he had reached while he was with the Lakers. Though his post-Laker career was not much, his time with the Lakers helped produce two titles, including one win against the Boston Celtics.
1 Derek Fisher (1996)
Because the Lakers have made a number of deals in recent years where the team included its first round pick as compensation, counting the past 15 first round picks takes the list all the way back to 1996 and that pick in ’96 was none other than Derek Fisher. Fisher was the team’s first round pick that year because Kobe Bryant was drafted by Charlotte and was traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.
There were seven players who were with the Lakers’ during all three years of the three-peat from 2000-2002 and Fisher was one of the seven. Fisher is also one of five Lakers to have won five championships as a member of the team. The other four are Kobe, Kareem, Magic and Coop. Fisher is in very elite company.
Fisher spent 12 and a half of his 18 years in the NBA with the Lakers and the Lakers went at least into the second round of the playoffs in each of those years. Derek Fisher is the best of the Lakers’ last 15 First Round Picks.