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What We Learned from Summer League
The Lakers caught fire in Las Vegas, winning all of their last six games to capture the 2017 Summer League championship.
While Summer League might only be a taste of actual NBA regular-season play, there is still plenty to take away from how the Lakers’ squad performed among some of the league’s best young players.
Lonzo Ball looks like the real deal
When Lonzo Ball took the court in Las Vegas, he did so saddled with perhaps the highest expectations at Summer League since a rookie LeBron James in 2003.
Ball’s first game was candy for his detractors, as he shot just 2-of-15 from the field and 1-of-11 on 3-pointers, finishing with five points in a Lakers loss.
But Ball promised to bounce back, and he did so in a huge way. The next game was Summer League’s first triple-double in 10 years. After that was a 36-point performance. Then came yet another triple-double.
Lonzo finished his time in Vegas as the Summer League MVP after putting up 16.3 points, an event-record 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
Even more impressive than his grandiose stats was the way that he compiled them.
Ball was in his element pushing the pace for the Lakers, showing off his world-class passing ability that general manager Rob Pelinka has repeatedly called “transcendent.”
Ball sailed full-court outlet passes into the waiting arms of teammates. He found shooters on drive-and-kicks. He made simple passes that paid off down the line as they set off chains of ball movement.
If anything, Ball was too unselfish, at times passing up open layups to try to get a teammate in the scoring column. This contributed to his 3.8 turnovers per game, which frankly should be expected from a 19-year-old handling the ball on every possession of a hyper-paced offense.
Other than turnovers, the one flaw in Ball’s Summer League was his off-the-mark shooting. He hit just 38.2 percent of his attempts, including 23.8 from 3-point range.
However, while his aim was untrue from deep, he was effective getting into the paint. As Summer League continued on, he found a knack for driving in for layups and even finishing with his left hand if need be.
He shot 53.3 percent on two-pointers, and it will be interesting to see if that can be sustained when guarded by NBA-level defenders come October.
Kyle Kuzma stole the show
When Ball missed the Summer League championship game with a mild calf strain, the Lakers knew exactly who to turn to: 27th-overall pick Kyle Kuzma.
He had already been hot at that point — having finished Summer League on a four-game streak of 20-plus points — but completely took over the game with the title on the line, scoring 30 points with 10 rebounds and six 3-pointers.
Kuzma looked like the perfect pairing for Ball, providing the point guard with a transition floor-runner and a spot-up 3-point shooter.
Other power forwards couldn’t keep up with Kuzma on the fast-break, and he was a more-than-reliable spot-up shooter, hitting a scorching 24-of-50 on 3-pointers.
Obviously that kind of 3-point clip is unreasonable to expect from Kuzma in the regular season, but the championship game MVP did have a clean, quick release that points positively toward his ability to adjust to NBA range.
It was an odd fortnight for the sophomores
Brandon Ingram was excellent in game one, scoring 26 points with the game-tying layup off of a slick crossover.
However, cramping in his leg kept him from playing again at Summer League, and the rest was a mixed bag for the Lakers’ sophomore class.
Defensive ace David Nwaba was solid, averaging 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds before being waived mid-Summer League after the Lakers signed free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Meanwhile, Ivica Zubac surprisingly struggled through much of the event, putting up 10.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 1.1 blocks.
He had his bright moments like a 21-point outing versus Philadelphia and double-double against Cleveland, but the sum of his experience was more underwhelming.
At 7-foot-1 and 265 pounds, he had trouble keeping up with the lightning pace of Summer League, as teams like Brooklyn even put out all-guard lineups, which limited Zubac’s effectiveness. He also missed both of his 3-point shots after showing promise from deep last year in the NBA G League.
The rookies looked solid as a whole
With Ball and Kuzma leading the way, it was a stellar debut for the Lakers’ 2017 draft class. At the same time, Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart held their own in limited playing time.
Bryant put up 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13.4 minutes, making a quick acquaintance of Ball, who set up many of his looks. He was also incredibly efficient, shooting 14-of-18 on two-pointers. Billed as a potential stretch-five, he also stepped out and hit a pair of 3-pointers on six tries.
Unfortunately for Hart, an ankle sprain limited him to just two games at Summer League. The reigning First Team All-American played well, averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. But the Lakers’ first true look at him will have to wait till training camp.
The Summer League squad featured a lot of gems
For as much as Ball and Kuzma took over, the Lakers couldn’t have taken home the trophy without their role players also rising up.
Reigning NBA G League MVP Vander Blue was at the forefront of this, using his trademark slashing to average 20.7 points over the Lakers’ final three games.
Meanwhile, undrafted wing Matt Thomas was a flamethrower after starting Summer League just 3-of-12 from 3-point range. From that point forward the sharpshooter hit an absurd 14-of-16 on triples over L.A.’s final three games.
While those two could find themselves playing for the South Bay Lakers next season, point guard Alex Caruso certainly will after impressing the Lakers enough to warrant a two-way contract.
Caruso took over in the two games that Ball had to sit out due to injury, as the 6-foot-5 G League veteran put up 18 points, nine assists and four steals against Sacramento, then dropped 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the championship game.
With Caruso potentially being joined by Blue, Thomas and Travis Wear (7.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg), South Bay’s first season at the UCLA Health Training Center is already shaping up to be a promising one.
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