The Lakers worked out six 2021 NBA Draft prospects. Who are they?
The Los Angeles Lakers worked out six prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft on Wednesday. The Lakers will have the No. 22 overall pick on July 29 — the highest selection the franchise has owned since 2019. At the moment, the Lakers have zero second-round picks.
Wednesday also marked the final day for draft hopefuls with remaining college eligibility to pull out of the draft in order to play college ball in 2021-22.
Here are a few things to know about the latest batch of players to meet the Lakers — all of whom are considered late second round to off-board prospects.
Jason Preston – Ohio
Preston was the lone hooper to meet with the media following his workout. The 6’4 former Ohio Bobcats guard called the draft process a “dream come true.”
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 7, 2021
The 21-year old said his workout was “good” and felt like he showed off his “play-making ability,” especially around ball screens, as well as his ability to create open looks.
The Orlando native can score off the dribble using an innate craftiness, and he simply understands how the sport should be played. He’s an excellent rebounder and generally brings an impressive all-around, high-IQ game.
Ohio's Jason Preston had a great day at the NBA Combine, shooting the ball extremely well, playing strong defense and whipping the ball all over the floor to teammates in impressive fashion. Has an outstanding feel for the game and an extremely high skill-level. pic.twitter.com/4Ua4RabuZP
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 24, 2021
More importantly, he wins.
In 2020-21, Preston led Ohio to its first Mid-American Conference Championship. In the NCAA Tournament, he led the Bobcats to a first-round upset over Virginia.
“I’m a winner,” he said when asked what he hopes to show the Lakers and other teams. “Wherever I’m gonna go, we’re gonna win. I’m not about the individual numbers…my goal is to win the basketball game.” He said he “put the world on notice” in his standout 2020-21 season.
Preston — who was at the end of his high-school team’s bench before turning himself into a top-40 prospect — also shared his experience as a Detroit Pistons blogger back in high school, mentioning that he became a lifelong Pistons fan thanks to the 2003-04 title-winning squad. (Any young kid who gravitates to that team has to appreciate defensive execution and team-first ball.)
His most underrated skill? Athleticism, Preston told ClutchPoints.
The 6'4 guard averaged 15.7 pts, 7.3 rebs, 7.3 assists, and 1.5 steals for Ohio in 20 games in '20-21. He shot 51% from the field and 39% from 3.
Preston led the Bobcats to a 1st-round upset over Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, putting up 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists.
— michael corvo (@_michaelcorvo_) July 7, 2021
Preston is a nightly triple-double threat who I personally love as a sleeper. If he’s available late, the Lakers should explore a trade.
Giorgi Bezhanishvili – Illinois
Bezhanishivili, a 22-year old junior from the Republic of Georgia, is a 6’9, 229-pound power forward who you won’t find on too many boards.
He wasn’t a highly-touted recruit, but he made an immediate impact as a freshman, averaging 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. In February 2019, he set the program’s single-game scoring record for a frosh, dropping 35 points in a win vs. Rutgers.
This season, Bezhanishivili averaged 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds as the overqualified backup center for the 24-7 Fighting Illini.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Bezhanishivili “is known for his outgoing personality and impromptu dance moves” around campus, so you know his footwork and locker-room presence is top-notch. In fact, his profile page on the Fighting Illini team site mentions that he “mastered a number of dances including the rumba, salsa, samba, jive, cha cha, tango, English waltz, slow waltz and foxtrot.”
Bezhanishvili hasn’t proven to be a stretch-4. He shot 16-of-66 (24.2%) from deep over his first two seasons in Champaign, then hit 3-of-6 as a junior. He does have a 7’2 wingspan.
Matt Coleman III – Texas
Coleman III, who will turn 24 in January (a factor in his late-second round projection) averaged 13.2 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals for the Texas Longhorns on strong .485/.377/.813 shooting splits.
In theory, the lefty 6’2 guard — a native of Norfolk, VA, and an Oak Hill alum — could provide a level of perimeter distribution, shooting, and shot-creation that the Lakers lacked in 2020-21, especially with LeBron James off the court. Expecting Coleman III to be that guy right away is, of course, unreasonable.
On the plus side, he’s a seasoned two-way guard with elite quickness off-the-dribble. He knocked down the game-winning free throws as part of a 30-point performance in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
Coleman III’s final collegiate performance did not exactly show off his floor general skills. The Longhorns were upset in the Dance by Abilene Christian and put forth an abysmal collective offensive showing. Coleman had seven turnovers and shot 1-0f-6 from deep.
In general, the Lakers shouldn’t stress about age in this draft. The championship window is now, and they would love young players who can contribute right away. Oregon’s Chris Duarte is a popular choice from Lakers fans for that reason.
LJ Figueroa – Oregon
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 7, 2021
Durate’s teammate, L.J. Figueroa, has been busy competing for the Dominican Republic since Oregon fell in the Sweet 16, and may have raised his stock by doing so. The 23-year old won Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the TBS Distrito league. He was then taken 1st overall in the 2021 draft for Liga Nacional de Baloncesto.
Figueroa fills a need for the Lakers as a super-athletic, 6’6 wing with three-point range (37.7% in 2020-21) and quality defensive skills (1.9 steals per game in 2019-20). He’s a solid off-the-bounce attacker with a knack for play-making.
— Manny2️⃣2️⃣9️⃣ (@Manny229) July 3, 2021
Figueroa declared for the 2020 draft but transferred from St. John’s to Oregon after going undrafted. In 33 games for the Red Storm, Figueroa averaged 19.7 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds.
— St. John's BBall (@StJohnsBBall) November 28, 2018
L.J. averaged 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in Eugene. In Oregon’s Round of 32 upset over Iowa, he dropped 21 points and hit five threes.
Alan Griffin – Syracuse
The 6’5 wing, son of ex-NBA player (and Toronto Raptors assistant coach) Adrian Griffin, declared for the draft via this astounding hype video, in which he FaceTimes his dad to share the news.
“ The game is going to test you never fold. Stay ten toes down. It’s not on you, it’s in you. And what’s in you, they can’t take away.”
— Alan Griffin (@alangriffin_) April 30, 2021
Griffin began his collegiate career playing alongside Bezhanishvili for two seasons. He shot 41.6 percent from three for Illinois as a sophomore, and his quick-trigger mentality can stretch the floor (something the Lakers desperately need). He could potentially fill the void left by Ben McLemore, who may not return to Los Angeles after spending two months on the fringe of the rotation.
He transferred to Syracuse to prove he’s more than a shooter.
As a junior, Griffin averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 boards per game and led the Orange with 46 blocks. He started all but one game for Jim Boeheim and nailed 36.1% of his threes. He shot nearly 90% from the charity stripe, which can be the best indicator for projecting shooting prowess at the NBA level.
He scored just eight points over ‘Cuse’s final four games, though, and his role dramatically diminished as the Orange made a run to the Sweet 16.
Cody Riley – UCLA
Angelenos will be familiar with Riley after he played a key role in UCLA’s remarkable run to the Final Four.
As a redshirt junior, the 22-year old averaged 10 points (53.8% FG) and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games. The 6’9, 225-pound forward from Kansas City put up nine points, six boards, and 1.3 blocks in six March Madness contests.
Riley, you may also recall, took part in the shoplifting scandal in China in 2017 that got him, LiAngelo Ball, and Jalen Hill suspended. Fortunately, his tenure in Westwood ended on a much higher note.
“Cody has been at UCLA for four years, has grown up a lot on and off the court, and has been a joy to coach,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “He’s been a warrior for us.”