LAS VEGAS — For the past two weeks, the young core of the purple and gold have essentially been the Las Vegas Lakers.
Since arriving in Nevada on July 7, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram have put their skills on display at both the Las Vegas Summer League and USA Basketball training camp, with Julius Randle joining them for the latter event.
Naturally, General Manager Mitch Kupchak oversaw his players’ performances during both weeks.
Kupchak sees the value in his young trio learning from five-time champion Gregg Popovich, who is the head coach of the USA Select Team. However, despite also getting to scrimmage against the U.S. Olympic Team, Kupchak acknowledged that there is only so much that they can gain from the four-day camp that concluded Thursday.</p
“It’s kind of mixed results in what you can expect in four days,” Kupchak said. “It’s not like they’re preparing for the Olympics. What they’re doing is being exposed to a great coach and his system. It’s an honor and they get to play against each other and, of course, the great competition that the Olympic team is.
“So I’m not sure if it’s going to lead to an experience that’s equal to maybe four to six weeks under Coach Popovich, but whenever you can spend any time with a coach like that it’s to be appreciated.”
Russell found himself at the center of both Summer League — where he averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists — and USA camp, where he was one of the most active participants in scrimmages and games of one-on-one.
It was a display of growth for a player whose 11.8 points on 37.7 percent shooting underwhelmed at Summer League last year. Kupchak sees Russell’s success in Vegas as a symbol for the improvement that he expects from Ingram, who also had a slow start to his rookie season at Summer League this year.
“I think this summer was night and day compared to last summer (for Russell),” Kupchak said. “I think Brandon’s summer will be night and day to this year, and that’s just the progress of the young player. If they all continue to work — Julius and Brandon and D’Angelo — then I would expect a year from now that they’re all going to be a lot better than they are today.”
While the three former lottery picks all received plenty of attention for playing on the Select Team, Kupchak also found himself impressed by a 19-year-old Croatian whom he drafted in the second round.
Kupchak said that he “quite frankly” didn’t expect Ivica Zubac to play as well as he did at Summer League, where he affected both sides of the floor with 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and a 64.7 field goal percentage.
Zubac’s week struck Kupchak even more considering that he was unable to practice much leading into Summer League due to his contract’s paperwork needing to be finalized.
“He really only had one practice under his belt, and expectations were very low,” Kupchak said. “But once again, he’s a young player that’s gonna need time to develop as well. But I think he’s a little bit ahead of what we thought.”