Lakers' Way Too Early 2021 NBA Draft Big Board

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 8, 2021

Lakers' Way Too Early 2021 NBA Draft Big Board

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    When weighing the current concerns for the Los Angeles Lakers, the 2021 NBA draft is about as far down the list as it gets.

    But you can rest assured there are members of the front office either solely focused on prospect evaluations or at least devoting some of their time hours to marrying NBA-hoopers-to-be with the franchise's needs.

    The Lakers will get one throw at the dart board, as their second-rounder was long ago traded away. They'll land somewhere near the back end of the opening round, which keeps them removed from the elite-prospect tier but certainly leaves open the possibility of plucking a future member of the 2021-22 rotation.

    With needs in the backcourt and up front, and a likely boost given to plug-and-play contributors, here's an early look at the top three prospects for the Lakers within their likely draft range.

1. Chris Duarte, SG, Oregon

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Chris Duarte's 24th birthday will arrive before the 2021 draft does. He's a few months older than Brandon Ingram, whom the Lakers drafted second overall back in 2016.

    For some teams, that could be a deal-breaker. For the Lakers, they might appreciate Duarte's experience and poise.

    His stock is trending up after a strong showing at the men's NCAA tournament. While he only played two games in the Big Dance, he piled up 44 points, 13 assists and only three turnovers in 71 minutes.

    He'll probably peak as a role player, but that might be all the Lakers are aiming for at the moment. His three-and-D skills should be a simple addition to a perimeter rotation that could be without Wesley Matthews (unrestricted free agent) and Talen Horton-Tucker (restricted) next season.

2. Jared Butler, PG/SG, Baylor

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    A Wooden Award finalist and key figure in the Bears' run to the 2021 national championship, Jared Butler looks like he could step into an NBA rotation tomorrow. Now, that instant-impact ability comes along with a slightly lower ceiling than most, but with LeBron James and Anthony Davis chasing championships, that's a sacrifice L.A. should be willing to make.

    Getting to the Purple and Gold could be a dream come true for Butler. He peaked as a playmaker this past season and still averaged just 4.8 assists per game. He doesn't quite have the quarterbacking chops to be a full-time floor general, but he could thrive as a secondary playmaker and spot-up sniper alongside James.

    Butler displayed tremendous growth as a marksman across his three seasons at Baylor. He shot just 39.5 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from distance as a freshman, then bumped those numbers all the way to 47.1 and 41.6, respectively, as a junior.

    He's a plucky defender (2.0 steals per game), and while his lack of size might limit his versatility, the Lakers could be in the market for a point guard stopper anyway, as both Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso are ticketed for free agency at season's end.

3. Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Lakers have lacked lift at the center position ever since Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee exited in free agency last offseason. Spending a late first on Charles Bassey might scratch that itch.

    A former top-10 recruit, Bassey took the long road to the big leagues after having much of his 2019-20 season cut short by injuries. When he has made it inside the lines, though, he has flashed the same physical tools that once made him such a highly sought-after recruit.

    The 6'11", 235-pounder gets busy near the basket. The statistical results of that activity are per-game averages of 17.6 points (on 59.0 percent shooting), 11.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks this season. The makings of a reliable rim-runner are evident, so long as he can harness his consistency.

    What makes him extra intriguing, though, are his occasional glimpses of shooting touch. He's not at all a spacer at the moment, but his 18-of-59 from three in 2020-21 shows it's something he's looking to add to his arsenal.