I can’t remember a more anticipated Non-Playoff game for the Lakers than the first Summer League game. Maybe wanting to see Nash/Kobe/WorldPeace/Gasol/Dwight suit up together for the first time in 2012. This year almost seemed more exciting, we couldn’t wait to see Russell/Clarkson/Randle/Upshaw all play and play together. In 2012 it was exciting because of what could be, media experts were predicting the Lakers were going to win the championship before they even stepped on the court. We just wanted to simulate the whole season like on NBA2k and get to the playoffs already, once they got to the playoffs the injuries and Kobe/Dwight drama had already taken the air out of every puffed up fan. That disappointment fresh in my mind I tried to take caution when approaching the first three Summer League games, but who am I kidding?
The mystery and “What-If” of it all took me in and had my thinking about Russell, Clarkson, and Randle in the Finals. Seeing Russell or Randle win the MVP, Upshaw winning the Defensive Player of the Year, Clarkson in an All-Star game. What-Ifs can be fun and exciting but they can also bring disappointment and reality. Over the past five games my Finals Dream was recalibrated. Obviously I didn’t think it would happen in the next 2-3 years but in the SL we really got a picture of how much growing this group is going to have to do together to get to that point. The growing though, is going to be really fun. There were flashes of excellent basketball played by all of these guys. Pull up threes, drive and kicks, blocks, dunks, fast breaks, there’s going to be some fun basketball in the Lakers Edition of Staples Center again.
The growing is going to be how these guys take those awesome plays and string them together into a whole quarter, a game, a season, and a playoff run. That takes time. Ironing out the turnovers, unnecessary fouls, and bad shots will take coaching and practice. Overall there were more of those than the exciting plays in this year of Summer League and the record speaks for itself (1-4). However, the idea of these young guys playing together in meaningful games and getting better everyday is what I’m anticipating will make this season the best one in years for the Lakers.
Lakers Team Notes:
Both teams were scoreless for almost three minutes to start this game. The Lakers started with their normal lineup
Not much to talk of in the 1Q as they only combined to score 25 points… I thought this might end up being the this-is-the-last-summer-league-game-why-try game we were all expecting.
Mark Madsen trotted out an interesting lineup to start the second quarter: Upshaw/Randle/Mitchell/Clarkson/Russell
I really thought we’d see more Upshaw/Randle together in the SL, I also thought we’d see more than 20 minutes a game from Randle and 11/gm from Upshaw. Neither were in real game shape, not sure if I should be concerned about that or not maybe more from Upshaw than Randle who’s coming off a season ending injury. I just think that it’s a necessity to play Randle with either Black or Upshaw and in crunch-time in this game the Lakers played without either of them. They went super small with Russell/Clarkson/JBrown/Mitchell/Randle. In their defense they did bring Upshaw back into the game but with only 7 seconds left…
There were a couple of great plays in this game that you aren’t going to see in a highlight reel.
Around 3:22 in the 3Q Nance Jr altered a Trey Lyles driving layup and he missed. Jabari Brown got the rebound, started the fast break, drove to the free throw line, stopped, turned around, and kicked it out to Clarkson on the left wing. Clarkson drove right and dumped it off to a streaking Nance who ended up missing the layup.
Then later in the 3Q Randle gets a defensive rebound starts the fast break takes it all the way over to left wing. Clarkson (the blur in front of him) thinks about setting a screen but decides to run to the opposite corner, doubles back when no defenders come to help and gets an easy dunk.
This team, at least these young guys are at their best when they play fast.
Tony Mitchell as a prospect has been less interesting than I had hoped. After going undrafted in 2012 Mitchell played for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (D-League Team) and was the D-League rookie of the year. Played in the Vegas and Orlando Summer Leagues in 2013, played 11 games in china and then back to the [Mad] Ant’s hill. In March of 2014 he was signed to a 10-day contract with the Bucks but was not offered a second one so back to the Ants and they won the D-League Championship. Mitchell then played on the D-League Select team in the 2014 Summer League and signed with the Dolomiti Energia Trento team of the Italian Serie A League and won the MVP. So, to say he’s bounced around would be an understatement.
All that success granted him a run with this Lakers SL team but we didn’t really get to see too much of him. Of the three guys that ‘came out of nowhere’ (Munford/Davis/Mitchell) on this roster he saw the most playing time. Since we only saw him for 13 minutes a game I never felt like we saw his whole game, who he is as a player. There were a few good blocks and dunks that were memorable and he makes good decisions with the ball unless the decision was for him to shoot. He shot horribly, 25% from the field and 20% from three. Summer League isn’t everything and maybe the Lakers coaching staff saw some film that I haven’t seen. Madsen played Mitchell at the power forward position a lot in SL and there’s no room for him there on the Lakers roster. Depending on what Byron Scott thinks about Kobe and Nick Young playing some small forward this team could be really weak on the wing and Mitchell might be a cheap option with upside. If Scott thinks Kobe and Young can play some three and if he tries Clarkson and JBrown there like Madsen did in SL as well as Randle and Nance Jr there too then I don’t see a place on this roster for Mitchell.
Munford was another part of the ‘out of nowhere’ guys and we saw half as much of him as Mitchell. At 6’2″ Munford looked really small alongside the core of Russell/Clarkson/Randle and I think he’s probably too small to play off the ball guard in the NBA. He has a really good shooting touch though and of my very little notes on him most of them were “nice shoot” or “good stroke by Munford.” Again, depending on how Byron sees it Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Lou Williams, Nick Young, and Jabari Brown can all play guard off the ball leaving Munford without a spot.
Will Davis II
The third ‘out of nowhere’ guy, Will Davis out of UC Irvine, didn’t see any time on the floor so I can’t comment on his game and he’s not going to be on the Lakers but apparently he’s embracing his opportunity.
Buycks is the last guy you might not have heard of before on this roster but he actually spent some time on the Lakers last season. He played 6 games in April and played rather well for the time he was given averaging 8.7pts, 2rebs, 2.3asts, in 20.5min a game and shot really well 45%FG, 63%3FG, and 90%FT.
That was not the case in SL in my opinion. Whether it was because he was fighting for a roster spot or just lack of familiarity with the offense Buycks turned into a ballstopper in Vegas. It seemed like every time he had the ball it was ‘dribble dribble shoot miss’ besides one really good full court assist to Anthony Brown in this game against the Jazz. The miss part was true, he made 0% of his shot attempts and only two free throws. Like Munford I don’t think there’s a spot for Buycks to return.
The self proclaimed 3andD second round pick for the Lakers will be on the Lakers roster (because he’s already signed), and I like him a lot. He didn’t shoot too well, basically right along with the team averages 33%FG, 25%3FG, and went 6-6 from the free throw line. After starting the first three games and averaging 27 minutes per game Brown saw his playing time drop to just 15 an 11 and I’m not sure why. You could argue it’s because he didn’t shoot well but if that’s the case then Buycks shouldn’t have played at all after going 0-5 in the first game. From what we saw from Brown he’s going to be a great fit on this team if only because he understands his role. Only a few times did I see him try and bring the ball up and that was just to start the fast break after a steal or a rebound. He mostly put his head down, defended and tried to hit spot up shots. A few times I saw him take a few dribbles and nail a pull up jumper and that has to be exciting for Lakers fans because a 3andD guy is nice, a 3andD guy that can make plays and create off the dribble is a luxury. Brown also just seems like a guy everyone likes. You don’t get to see much of the bench during the games but anytime they panned over that way or when walking to the huddle you would see ABrown chatting and laughing with other guys. So not only is he a 3andD guy he could be a glue guy, a player that just helps the team’s chemistry and connects with everyone. I’m excited to see more of him in the regular season and to see how he develops and fits with the rest of the team.
One of the things that made this SL the most anticipated was the prospect of Robert Upshaw. Once thought to be on the same talent level as Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns Upshaw was dismissed from both Fresno State and Washington for violating team rules. I wanted the Lakers to take him with the 27th or 34th pick in the draft so I was happy to see them pick him up for the SL team. Upshaw is the definition of an NBA big man. He’s 7ft tall with a 7’5″ wingspan, he blocked 85 shots in just 19 games at Washington (4.5/g, 7.2 per 40min), he also has a pretty decent jumper that we got to see a few times in SL. Especially on this spin move in the Mavericks game (video below too). It’s those kinds of plays that we’re looking for in SL, just show us a little extra. No one shoots that well, everyone is adjusting to the speed and size of the other players, no one is completely comfortable. Show us a move that wows us and makes us see why you’re could be really good.
On the court problems the biggest concern for Upshaw is conditioning. He only played 11mins a game 6, 9, and 6min in the last three games and every time he looked exhausted. Upshaw was the king of ‘let me just foul you so you don’t just beat me off the dribble’ in the SL. If he can stay out of trouble and get in shape he could give Roy Hibbert and Tarik Black a run for their money in the center rotation.
Larry Nance Jr
Never forget the LA-RRY LA-RRY game.
If you’ve read any of my other posts you know that I’ve been tracking Nance’s jump shots and he’s 0-12. In fact besides the 76ers game he’s 1-13 from the field in SL. He knows his role, he said so in that interview. It’s pretty simple with Nance, he’s going to come off the bench, play both forward spots, get stops on defense, and bring some energy off the bench. When his jumper catches up to the NBA game he’ll start getting more minutes.
In this game against the Jazz we were also introduced to the Nance Face after a Clarkson dunk that you’ll see later. (Oooo in-column tease)
Jabari Brown was another guy that spent some time with the Lakers last season and he picked up right where he left off. Getting buckets, he led the team in scoring in the SL (17ppg).
Jabari Brown was the D-League scoring champion last season and that’s saying something because it’s all about getting your own shots in the D-League. So you could say JBrown was the King of the Chuckers. He can score any way you want too and we saw all of it in SL. Spot up shots, pull ups, he shot 38% from three, drives, pump fakes, and step back jumpers. The little extra that I saw from JBrown was the plays he can make, good passes and decent defense. There were a few times when I thought that the Lakers made a mistake signing Lou Williams to a three year deal because JBrown might be a better cheaper option. He’s going to make the team and play the back up guard spot probably behind Clarkson.
After playing 38 games for the Lakers last year Black came into SL without a lot to prove and mostly just to build rapport with the other guys. Every announcer pegged Black as a “defense and hustle guy” a “guy that doesn’t have to score but can impact the game on defense and get rebounds.” He does all that, I just think he’s better on offense than everyone is giving him credit for. He shot almost 70% from the field in SL averaging 9.2pts & 7.6rebs in only 23min a game. Two dribble drives, jump hooks, pick and rolls, and finding open space to get dump offs he can do a little of everything in the post. Hopefully he’ll get some more credit for that as the season goes on. One concern is that Black fouled a lot in SL, averaging 6 per game in those 23min. He fouled out of the first game (10 fouls) which seems impossible, and fouled 8 times in the second so maybe he just needed to brush some rust off. Black will be on the final roster, for now he’s a great backup center to Hibbert and eventually Upshaw.
Like Black I don’t think he needed to play in the SL either, they just wanted to see him and Russell/Randle play together, and so did I. We saw a lot from Clarkson, like these shoes, and if you didn’t see him at all last season you may be surprised, but I wasn’t. Clarkson is an interesting case for the Lakers in that he’s a high reward low risk player but should they capitalize on his stock now and trade him or just see how good he gets? In my opinion Clarkson is the real deal but there were enough rumors to suggest that the Lakers have considered moving him. For now they’re going to keep him and I believe Clarkson to be a starting guard alongside Russell with Kobe on the wing. Some people (like David Aldridge who called this game) believe that Clarkson comes off the bench though.
In this game Clarkson had a sweet wrap around pass to Black in the 1Q. In the first picture you see Clarkson on the right elbow with the ball and Black on the left. As Clarkson drives into the paint he draws the defense to him and Black sneaks into the empty space which allows Clarkson to deliver the pass.
Oh and how could I leave out this. Can’t wait for more of this.
Some people have been disappointed in Randle’s play over the last 4 games but I’m coming to his defense guns ablazin’. The coaching staff were really limiting his minutes. Randle played less per game than Russell, Clarkson, JBrown, Black, and ABrown. I saw a lot that I didn’t expect from Randle in this SL. In this game specifically Randle was either switched or matched up against a smaller ‘quicker’ player and was about to adjust his feet, get in front of them and either alter their shot or force them to pass. By my accounts he’s a decent on ball defender, his quick feet help with that, also he has some quick hands. A few times I saw him poke the ball away from a guy he was guarding. What he lacks is either an understanding or an effort as a help defender. Luckily if he plays next to Hibbert or Upshaw they’ll be there to help on an enormous amount of plays but if the Lakers go small like they did in this game then it’s on Randle to do the helping.
Offensively we saw another jumper go down in this game and you just have to hope that it keeps falling during games and his confidence grows, because he’ll be pretty unstoppable once that happens.
I also saw something I’ve never seen before and that was Tarik Black getting a defensive rebound and passing the ball to Randle instead of Clarkson or Russell who were right there next to him. The Lakers really put an emphasis on Randle bringing the ball up and making plays, and if you watched any of the finals you know how effective that could be. We’ve seen plays I showed you at the beginning of this column where Randle gets the board and takes it himself but this was the first time I saw someone pass to him over a guard.
The ball handling, the driving, the on-ball defending, and the few good passes and jump shots were all very encouraging to me. Especially because these were Randle’s first game games coming back from his broken foot.
This was the game we were all waiting for from Russell, he finally decided to be more aggressive shooting the basketball and hit long two after long two. His range will increase and soon we’ll see this happen a lot more often.
Thank goodness we finally saw this kind of a game from Russell, even in a loss, because if not everyone would freak out that he’s a bust already. For the record I don’t think he’s anywhere near a bust right now. Remember all that anticipation for the Summer League and how excited people were to see these guys play together? Well the majority of that fell on the 19 year old shoulders of D’Angelo Russell. Think about the toll that would take. What do you think of when you’re trying to go to sleep? How about a franchise’s entire season of hopelessness and misery all built up into finally getting top 5 draft pick who is the hope of the winningest franchise in the second biggest sport in America, and that pick was you. Your late essay doesn’t seem as strenuous does it? Of course all of that is super exciting and flattering but how do you approach your first game in that jersey?
For Russell he wanted to show everyone that he could facilitate, that he could wow you with passes and hit guys that no one else could. Problem is, everyone in the NBA and on the fringe of NBA in SL are bigger, faster, and stronger than anyone else that Russell has played with before. It’ll take some time and getting used to. What separates Russell from like a Dion Waiters or a Jimmer Freddette (Jimmer ALERT)? Adaptability. (Also Waiters would never have more turnovers in a game than missed shots). Russell changed his game to fit SL and this team. He stopped trying to force as many passes and bad turnovers and just took more shots. In the Mavericks game the shots weren’t falling and that happens to anyone. In this game they were, and that left elbow pull up jumper is CP3-level Money. (That means it’s automatic/it’ll go in every time/it’s really good). If we take anything away from SL for Russell it’s that he did bring the turnovers down so you can calm down and he has at least one elite skill in that pull up jumper.
Also in this picture you see Russell sort of motioning to his ears and he was saying “talk to me, talk to me, talk, talk, talk.” I’m not sure exactly when that happened but it’s encouraging whether it was on offense or defense. (Probably defense). Russell wants to be a leader and he’s showing it, he doesn’t have all the tools in place to step up and be that right now but he’s going to work hard and figure it out eventually.
That’s the theme of Summer League for the Lakers: Eventually. Eventually this will be great. Eventually Russell will perfect all of those passes. Eventually Randle will finish around the rim. Eventually Anthony Brown will hit those threes, and so on. All of these guys need work and with training camp right around the corner I think this season is something we should all be anticipating.