A 3-0 start at the Las Vegas Sumer League warranted plenty for the Lakers to be excited about and, despite back-to-back losses to end the week, the final two games also allowed individual players to flaunt some of their game.
In particular, Los Angeles’ starting five made the most of its time in Las Vegas, as the Lakers’ rookies and sophomores flashed some potential that the team hopes they can build upon in the regular season.
D’Angelo Has Made Strides
D’Angelo Russell provided the highlight of Summer League by draining a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer against Philadelphia, but his performance was much more than the one shot and “ice in my veins” celebration that followed.
The 20-year-old proved to be clearly more talented than his summer competition, as he averaged 21.8 points on 47.7 percent shooting with 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists before resting during Friday’s consolation game against Utah.
While Russell’s numbers are impressive on their own, the variety of ways that he reached them were even more so. He showed off a refined post-up game, while also thriving in pick-and-rolls with Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac. When the defense gave him too much space, he simply rose up from 3-point range, where he shot 10-of-25 (40.0 percent).
Simply, Russell — who will stay in Vegas for USA Basketball’s four-day training camp — looked like a completely different player than the one who put up 11.8 points on 37.7 percent shooting at last year’s Summer League.
Ingram Shows Flashes
Last year, Russell struggled at Summer League until scoring 21 points in the finale against Utah. It was a case of deja vu for the Lakers, as this year’s No. 2 pick, Brandon Ingram, went through a similar experience before dropping 22 on the Jazz in the last game.
After a solid 12-point, two-block debut in which he affected the game on both ends with his shooting and length, Ingram fell into a three-game slump that saw him shoot just 7-of-29. During this stretch, Ingram’s outside shot simply wasn’t falling and he was unable to finish off drives to the hoop or locate open shooters.
However, with Russell resting and Nance injured during Friday’s finale, Ingram took advantage of his opportunity as the team’s primary weapon. The 18-year-old’s 22-point display was a model of efficiency, as he shot 9-of-13 from the field while scoring in a variety of ways; be it on a couple of turnaround jumpers in the paint, a pair of 3-pointers or some pull-up jumpers.
He also showed really nice vision as the pick-and-roll ball handler, which helped him finish with four assists.
Zublocka Can Ball
Not much was known about No. 33 pick Ivica Zubac before he suited up at Summer League, but he certainly left an impression after solid performances in all five games.
The 7-foot-1 Croatian averaged 10.6 points on 64.7 percent shooting with 7.2 rebounds, and, like Ingram, saved his best for the final day. Against Utah, he reached a double-double with 16 points on 8-of-14 shootings and 11 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. But his biggest contribution was on the defensive end, where the man known as “Zublocka” swatted six shots.
Zubac said that his family and friends back in Croatia woke up at 4:30 a.m. to watch him play in his first taste of NBA basketball, and they surely weren’t disappointed. Offensively, he surprised with how polished his post game looked and with how smoothly he hit his mid-range jumper.
Add in a blend of power and nimbleness out of pick-and-rolls and the result was 1.20 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Tech, which led all second-rounders and trailed only Jakob Poeltl among rookies.
Larry’s Wrist Will Be OK
The biggest scare of the week came in the final minute of Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, when Nance took a hard fall and landed on his right wrist. X-rays immediately after suggested that he had fractured it, but — after seeing a hand specialist in L.A. the next day — the Lakers announced that it was only a sprain, thus allowing Nance a much quicker path to recovery.
The news was especially good to hear after Nance played such a vital role in Las Vegas. Showing off an improved jumper, he scored double figures in three of his four games, including when he notched a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Cavaliers.
However, Nance’s shining moment came five days earlier when he energized L.A.’s comeback over the 76ers. The 23-year-old tallied 13 points, eight rebounds and four rebounds, but changed the course of the game with his defensive versatility, as he racked up seven steals and four blocks.
AB Leads the Defensive End
Anthony Brown entered Summer League with the goal of proving himself as the Lakers’ top defender, and he certainly made his case. He began the week by shutting down Wooden Award winner Buddy Hield, who shot just 5-of-20 overall and 1-of-8 from 3-point range with Brown as his primary defender.
Opposing shooting guards struggled against Brown throughout the event, as Hield, Nik Stauskas, Patrick McCaw and Marcus Paige combined to go 14-of-49 (28.6 percent). Unfortunately for the Lakers, the only one to have much success against Brown was the one that eliminated them from the tournament, as Jordan McRae exploded for 36 points on a 12-of-22 clip to lead the Cavs’ come-from-behind win.
Despite his defensive prowess, Brown — who shot just 31.0 percent during the regular season — still couldn’t find his own shot, averaging 7.0 points on a 36.1 percent mark. He did, however, show his stuff at the 11th hour, scoring 12 of his 15 points against Utah in the final quarter.