CJ McCollum offers high praise for Lakers rookie as an instant-impact player

The Los Angeles Lakers took chances at the 2024 NBA Draft. New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum believes at least one of those gambles will pay off.
Saint Peter's v Tennessee
Saint Peter's v Tennessee / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

The 2024 NBA Draft was a turbulent ride for Los Angeles Lakers fans. After landing perhaps the biggest steal of the event in Dalton Knecht at No. 17 overall, Los Angeles made the polarizing decision to select Bronny James at No. 55 after a dramatic day of reporting.

While all eyes have understandably shifted to free agency, one NBA veteran is encouraging fans to remember how significant the Lakers' first-round draft pick could actually be.

Knecht was a projected top-10 pick entering the 2024 NBA Draft, but shockingly slid to Los Angeles at No. 17. Many blamed his decline in draft stock on his age, as Knecht is a 23-year-old incoming rookie in an era that seems to believe that being over 20 will prevent a prospect from being as good as their peers.

During an appearance on ESPN's First Take, New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum scoffed at the criticism by singling Knecht out as the rookie with the best chance to make an instant impact.

For those who can't watch the video, McCollum had the following to say about Knecht:

"I think Dalton's going to have the biggest impact in year one. I think with the addition of JJ Redick to that staff, he was already drawing up ATOs and pin-downs, who better to mold Dalton than arguably one of the best off-ball movement shooters of all time? He's aggressive, he's athletic, he's confident. He's going to be able to play off the ball. LeBron and AD are going to have so much gravity it's going to open up things for him."

McCollum continued:

"I like the draft pick. I like that he's mature, I like that he's 23 years old, he's been in college, he's confident, consensus All-American. He had six games or more in which he scored 35+ points. He's not going to have to do too much, but he's going to be in a position to succeed based off the greatness of the players around him. Love his skill set, love the pick, thought he should've been picked earlier."

For what it's worth, McCollum knows a thing or two about being written off because of one's age entering the NBA ranks.

CJ McCollum endorses Lakers' Dalton Knecht as instant-impact rookie

When McCollum made his NBA debut in 2013, he was a 22-year-old rookie who had played four seasons at Lehigh University. He was limited in both production and playing time during his first two professional seasons, but broke out in year three, winning the Most Improved Player award at 24 years of age.

Since 2015-16, McCollum has averaged 21.6 points, 4.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 2.7 three-point field goals made while establishing himself as the best top-10 pick in his class.

McCollum's success should quell concerns about Knecht's age—as is the case with a long list of other stars. Jalen Brunson, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, and Pascal Siakam are among the active All-NBA honorees who were at least 22 years old when they debuted in the Association.

Beyond the superstars, there are countless high-level players who fell on draft day because of concerns about their age—including Lakers standout Austin Reaves, who went undrafted at 23 years old.

Three years later, Reaves is the arguable third-best player on the Lakers after producing a career-year in 2023-24 and helping the team reach the Western Conference Finals in 2022-23.

Knecht, meanwhile, is a unique case study as the reigning SEC Player of the Year whose game projects to translate favorably to the next level. He was one of the best shooters in the 2024 NBA Draft, as well as a high-level athlete who endured a physical brand of defense en route to his success.

Standing at 6'5.25" and 212 pounds with a 6'9" wingspan, Knecht dominated the 2024 NBA Draft Combine by ranking No. 1 in the shuttle run, No. 2 in the lane agility drill, and No. 12 in the three-quarter sprint.

Throw in a 39.0" vertical and Knecht has all of the physical tools that a team typically looks for in a wing. He also averaged 21.7 points and 2.6 three-point field goals made per game on .458/.397/.772 shooting against defenses that were designed to stop him—and led Tennessee to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010.

With the skill set, athleticism, toughness, and experience to make an instant impact, Knecht could silence his critics as soon as his rookie season with the Lakers.

McCollum is one of the many who believes he'll do so.