The Los Angeles Lakers are the most glamorous franchise in the NBA. As such, L.A. has become a prime destination for free agents over the years. Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James are just some of the biggest names to come to the Lakers via free agency, and it is indeed understandable why players are so attracted to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Nonetheless, the Lakers have also had their fair share of great players coming via the NBA Draft. After all, even if you’re the Los Angeles Lakers, you still can’t build your entire team via trades (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was acquired in a trade) and free agency.
Before we get started, though, we will need to make it clear that Kobe Bryant won’t be part of this brief list due to a technicality. Although L.A. acquired him during the 1996 NBA Draft, it was actually the Charlotte Hornets that officially drafted him before trading him to the Lakers.
With that out of the way, let’s proceed to the best draft picks in Lakers history.
The fact that the NBA’s logo was literally crafted out of his own image speaks volumes of the greatness of Jerry West. It’s why he’s one of the best Lakers draft picks. The 6-foot-2 combo guard was selected second overall by the Lakers in 1960 right before the team relocated to L.A., and boy was he a gem of a pick. West would go on to be a 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA selection, five-time All-Defensive Team member, and one-time Finals MVP winner. Now a Hall of Famer, West won one championship with the Lakers, which came during the historic 1971-72 season.
As far as Lakers greats go, one cannot overlook Elgin Baylor. Selected first overall by the Lakers in 1958 (then in Minneapolis), the 6-foot-5 small forward secured the Rookie of the Year trophy that same season. He finished his career as an 11-time All-Star and a 10-time All-NBA member. While Baylor was unable to win a title during his 14-year career with the Lakers, he is still widely regarded as one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history, once averaging 38.3 points per game for an entire season — and this was even before the 3-point line was introduced to the game.
Magic Johnson is without a doubt one of the greatest players in Lakers history, and is perhaps the best player the franchise has ever selected through the draft. It’s hard to argue against the idea he’s the best of the best draft picks in Lakers history. Johnson went first overall in 1979 following a tremendous two-year college career at Michigan State. He would revolutionize the game and would end up becoming a 12-time All-Star, three-time Finals MVP, three-time season MVP, and a five-time NBA champ, just to name a few of his accolades. It’s safe to say there would have been no “Showtime Lakers” in the 1980s had it not been for Magic.