Lakers Sleeper Prospects to Target in 2021 NBA Draft

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 15, 2021

Lakers Sleeper Prospects to Target in 2021 NBA Draft

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers will remain in the NBA championship hunt for as long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are rocking purple-and-gold threads.

    But after punctuating their injury-riddled 2020-21 season with a swift exit out of the first round, there are questions of whether this supporting cast is championship-quality.

    The Lakers have a chance to strengthen that group on draft night, as they hold the 22nd overall pick. While they could trade it for more established help, if they keep it, they should consider investing it in one of these three sleeper prospects.

Chris Duarte, SG/SF, Oregon

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    If the Lakers don't mind sacrificing upside for readiness—and given their proximity to a title, that seems a simple concession to make—then Oregon's Chris Duarte deserves a prominent place on their big board.

    Already 24 years old, he's ancient by NBA draft standards, but again, the trade-off is getting a prospect polished enough to hold down a rotation gig right now.

    His three-point shooting skyrocketed this past season (2.3 threes per night at a 42.4 percent clip), and that's where he would likely leave his biggest mark in L.A. While he is best when spotting up, he can also bury threes off the bounce and finish around the rim with either hand.

    He won't be a shutdown defender on the ball, but he plays smart team defense and creates havoc off the ball. He reads the game like a seasoned vet, so he is constantly coming up with steals (1.9 per game) and deflections.

Trey Murphy III, SF/PF, Virginia

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    Ethan Hyman/Associated Press

    Trey Murphy III's college stat line won't blow anyone away. Over three seasons—the first two spent at Rice—he averaged just 11.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game.

    For teams chasing star power, that might be reason enough to rule Murphy out. But for a club like the Lakers in search of complementary pieces, it's easy to envision the 6'9" swingman thriving in a supporting role.

    On offense, he offers an easy fit as a catch-and-fire sniper. His shooting stroke is smooth and repeatable, and this past season, it yielded a pristine 50.3/43.3/92.7 slash line. Get him to L.A., and he could feast on drive-and-kick offerings from James while keeping off-ball defenders honest.

    On defense, Murphy provides flexibility with the quickness to hang with wings and the length to bother bigger forwards. His three-and-D potential could make him an ideal fit alongside L.A.'s stars.

Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    With James already on the wrong side of his 36th birthday, it's possible the Lakers decide Cameron Thomas requires more developmental time than they can give him.

    His shot selection can get away from him, and he doesn't offer nearly enough playmaking or defense to operate as anything other than a spark-plug scorer at the moment.

    But did you watch L.A.'s 24th-ranked offense at all? The Lakers could use someone who can heat up faster than a microwave.

    That's who Thomas, the nation's top freshman scorer, is. He has every dribble move in the book, flashes fancy footwork on cuts and curls around screens and is hyper-aggressive when he sees a path to the basket. If the Lakers can hone in his decision-making, he could quickly emerge as one of their more reliable non-star scorers.