The speedy Van Exel, nicknamed Nick the Quick, was probably the Lakers’ best player in the mid-90s as the franchise transitioned between the retirement of Magic Johnson and the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Drafted in the second round out of Cincinnati in 1993, Van Exel made an immediate impact, averaging nearly 14 points a game, and was named to the all-rookie team. Though he was named to the All-Star team in 1998, Van Exel’s best season with the Lakers was probably his second, when he averaged about 17 points a game during the regular season and 20 a game in 10 playoff games. The Lakers lost to the Spurs in six games in the conference semifinals.
An excellent long-range shooter, he was the team’s all-time leader in three-pointers made until the mark was broken by Bryant.
Only 6 feet 1, Van Exel depended not only on quickness and touch but a ferocious drive that sometimes got the better of him. In 1996, after he used his forearm to shove referee Ron Garretson, Van Exel was fined $25,000 and suspended seven games.