3 prospects Lakers fans should watch closely in 2024 NCAA Tournament

St. John's v Connecticut
St. John's v Connecticut / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The NCAA Tournament officially starts on Thursday to give sports fans the most exciting stretch of basketball until the NBA Playoffs begin in April. While the biggest focus for the Los Angeles Lakers is getting into the playoffs, the team will also be keeping an eye on the tournament to circle and potential draft targets.

The New Orleans Pelicans have the right to either take the Lakers' pick in 2024 or roll the pick over to 2025, where the Pelicans will get it unprotected. With this draft class being pretty thin and the Lakers currently sitting at the 14th overall pick, it seems likely that the Pelicans will take their chances with next year's draft.

Thus, the Lakers can expect to have a pick in the middle of the first round and as long as the team does not trade that pick for an overrated all-star, the team could try and add a promising prospect from the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

3 prospects Lakers fans should watch closely in the 2024 NCAA Tournament:

Stephon Castle, Guard, UConn

Lakers fans may see a lot of Stephon Castle in the 2024 NCAA Tournament as UConn are the favorites to win it all this season. Castle is not a big reason for UConn's success, which has limited his draft stock. However, with a strong showing in the tournament, he could climb up the boards.

Castle is currently projected to go in the mid-first round and with so many unanswered questions at the point guard position, the Lakers may look to target the six-foot-six freshman. There are some holes in Castle's game (hence why he is a mid-first round prospect), particularly in his jump shot.

That being said, Castle has NBA size, length, and athleticism and should be a positive defender at the NBA level right away. He likely won't play much next season, but there is a seed that the Lakers can grow.

Jared McCain, Guard, Duke

The middle of the 2024 NBA Draft projects to be filled with guards but Jared McCain is a much different prospect than Castle. McCain does not have the size and length that Castle has and is likely going to have some defensive struggles early on in his NBA career.

That being said, McCain is a far better scorer than Castle, particularly when it comes to his jump shot. McCain is shooting 39.9% from three and 45.6% from the field heading into the tournament. At only six-three, McCain has shown decent rebounding skills (4.9 rebounds per game) although he has not been much of a facilitator (1.9 assists per game).

If McCain can shoot it like this in his rookie season then he will carve out a role in the rotation, even if it is only for 10 minutes a night. The one thing that no NBA team can have enough of if off-ball, spot-up shooters.

Dalton Knecht, Forward, Tennessee

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect on this list for the Los Angeles Lakers, fans should probably hope that Dalton Knecht has a bad tournament or that Tennessee is bounced early. Knecht may already go before the Lakers even have a chance to take him and a good tournament will only secure that reality.

Knecht is projected to go right at the tail end of the lottery in the 2024 draft. Out of all the possible prospects the Lakers could land, Knecht would probably be the most impactful right away as he is a senior and is coming into the league at 23 years old.

Older prospects like this have lower ceilings than the 19-year-old prospects but they are typically better right away, just look at Kyle Kuzma as the perfect example. Knecht could be the next version of that for the Lakers with the only difference being he is a shooting guard/small forward, not a power forward/small forward.

Knecht is averaging 21.1 points per game on .465/.397/.764 shooting splits. He is exactly the kind of young, microwave scorer that the Lakers should be looking to add to the bench next season.