There is still a little more than a week to go before the 2021 NBA Draft, and while the Lakers have worked out nearly 30 players publicly, Chris Duarte isn’t one of them. But even though the Lakers have yet to officially host the 6’6 Oregon wing and likely first-round pick, that hasn’t stopped other NBA teams from connecting the two parties.
Why? We aren’t really sure, but according to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, there are multiple organizations that think the Lakers gave Duarte a promise to draft him, even if Vecenie himself says he doesn’t totally buy the rumors (emphasis mine):
Duarte remains the name that comes up most for the Lakers. He is working out for teams above the Lakers in the draft order, so I’m a bit dubious that there is a “promise” here — or anywhere — for Duarte, something that teams around the league have speculated on throughout the pre-draft process.
To Vecenie’s point, usually, in draft parlance, a so-called “promise” is given in exchange for a player shutting down workouts and information for other teams in the hopes that they’ll fall to the team that gave them said promise. In exchange, the player gets an absolute bottom floor for where they could end up in the draft, and potentially gets to join an organization they want to go to.
The rumors that Duarte has a promise go all the way back to the combine:
Oregon’s Chris Duarte declined his 2021 NBA Draft Combine invite, fueling talk among teams that the combo guard could have a first-round promise, per sources.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) June 7, 2021
But promise or no promise, Duarte does sound like the type of player who could help the Lakers. Check out this scouting report from our own Ricky O’Donnell, who ranks Duarte as the 24th-best prospect in this class:
Duarte will start his rookie season as a 24-year-old who took an unlikely path to become a possible first round pick. A native of the Dominican Republic, Duarte moved to New York for his final years of high school ball and ended up playing two seasons at the JUCO level. When he transferred into Oregon, Duarte quickly showed off his skill as a three-point shooter and perimeter defender in the body of a 6’6 wing. Duarte showed good awareness as a rotational defender that helped produce a 3.2 steal rate that is one of the highest in this draft class. He hit 42.4 percent of his threes on 144 attempts this season, and also made 81 percent of his free throws.
It’s easy to project Duarte into an off-ball role in the NBA as someone who can spot-up along the arc for catch-and-shoot jumpers while defending well in a team context. He doesn’t have much creation ability on the ball which limits his ceiling, and also has a thin frame that hinders him against bigger forwards, but he feels like a solid bet for a rotational wing role player at the end of the first round.
Given how much the Lakers struggled to shoot last season, and how much Frank Vogel loves defense, it’s not hard to see Duarte fitting in well in Los Angeles. Still, it’s not really clear where the idea that the Lakers were the team to give him a promise came from, so take this rumor with a grain of salt, even if other NBA teams believe it.
But all that noted, as an “older” draft prospect, Duarte does fit a mold of player this scouting department has seemed to indicate in year’s past that it feels is undervalued. The Lakers’ picks of Kyle Kuzma (three years in college) and Larry Nance. Jr. (four years), for example, were viewed as reaches in some circles in recent years — in part due to their age — and both of those guys have become solid NBA players. Josh Hart (four years) was also an older college guy, although he was viewed much more favorably by draftniks than the prior two choices. Moe Wagner (three years) and Anthony Brown (five years) were also elderly prospects.
Is Duarte next in that esteemed line of old young guys? We’ll find out when the draft takes place on July 29.