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Lakers Summer League Summary

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

For years, the Lakers came to Las Vegas, played five Summer League games, and went back to Los Angeles. They won some, and they lost some.

And then, starting last summer, they won six straight games to earn the 2017 championship trophy, and despite having only two players carry over from that roster, won six straight games across the last two weeks here before falling just short, losing to Portland in the finale on Tuesday night.

Here’s a review of the 2018 experience, plus an explanation of what changed in the past two summers:

ORGANIZATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
When Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over in February of 2017, there was an immediate injection of energy into the franchise that fit what Luke Walton and his coaching staff were looking to do very well. That showed on the court as the regular season concluded, and coincided with what the Lakers’ G-League squad, the South Bay Lakers, were doing as well. In fact, President of the South Bay Lakers, Joey Buss, and GM, Nick Mazzella, were increasingly integrating their roster with the senior squad. They put together a strong group of players for the Summer League, including several players that had experience with the organization. That formed the basis for the group of Lakers draft picks, South Bay Lakers players and free agents that came together for the two separate runs in Vegas.

THE NBA DRAFT
One way to win a lot of summer league basketball games: draft really good players. And that’s exactly what Magic and Pelinka, keyed by Director of Scouting/Asst. GM Jesse Buss and his staff, have done for the past two years:

  • Lonzo Ball at No. 2 overall in 2017: MVP, 1st Team all Summer League.
  • Kyle Kuzma at No. 27 in 2017: Championship game MVP, All 2nd team.
  • Josh Hart at No. 30 in 2017: Out with an ankle injury last year, MVP and 1st Team honors this year.
  • Moe Wagner at No. 25 in 2018: Limited due to a knee contusion, but strong for two games.
  • Svi Mykhailiuk at No. 47: All 2nd team honors to emerge as the early steal-of-the-second-round favorite.
  • COACHING
    Miles Simon, who was hired by Luke Walton last summer as a player development coach, spent the year focused in part on Ball, Kuzma and Hart’s individual improvement. Walton likes to empower all of his coaches, and Simon picked up several additional responsibilities as the season went on, before replacing Jud Buechler – who took a job with the Knicks – as the summer league coach. Simon was excellent, finding a nice balance of motivating the players and focusing on effort and energy and still executing on the offensive and defensive end. The players knew where to be and when to be there, and always played hard. Simon had plenty of help on hand, between Lakers coaching staffers like Will Scott and Jonah Herscu, plus South Bay Lakers coach Coby Karl and his staff.

    DEFENSE
    I’ve been going to the Las Vegas Summer League since 2006, and I’m not sure I ever saw such consistent defensive effort and energy as what the Lakers were able to do for the past two summers. Perhaps the best way to illustrate it: the tiebreaker system the NBA uses in Vegas involves a “Points” category, which allots one point for every quarter a team leads in their first three games, and half a point for a tie. Out of a possible 12 points in group play, the Lakers accumulated 10.5 points, winning 10 of 12 quarters against Philly, Chicago and New York outright, tying one, and losing one. It’s one thing to get an early lead and maintain it, and another to beat teams quarter after quarter.

    That earned the 3-0 Lakers the No. 1 overall seed out of 30 teams, which resulted in a first round bye, and then a matchup with the Clippers. The Lakers dispatched them by 13 points, then won three of four quarters against Detroit in the quarterfinals. That led to a semifinal contest against Cleveland, which required Double OT for L.A. to reach the final.

    L.A. held Philly to 38.3 percent shooting from the field, Chicago to 37.0, New York 44.6, the Clippers 35.3 and Detroit 34.7 before Cleveland managed to hit 46.2 percent.

    The Lakers finally seemed to run out of gas against Portland in the final, with the Blazers boasting nine players with NBA experience to L.A.’s four, one of whom (Alex Caruso) had gastroenteritis and missed the semifinal, one of whom (Xavier Rathan-Mayes) being limited to a 10-day call up to Memphis last season, and the other two (Hart and Svi) having needed to score 37 and 31 points the night before to beat Cleveland. Portland, with great scoring balance, shot 49.4 percent to earn the championship.

    THE MVP
    Since the regular season ended in April, we’ve followed Josh Hart’s development pretty closely here. We detailed his plan for offseason progress, talked to Simon about specifics , then checked on the early results and figured he’d be getting MVP two games before he dropped 37 in the semifinal.

    In a nutshell, he got considerably better even from the player that finished the season scoring at least 20 points in his final four games. If you didn’t know … now you know. Even before a 3 for 12 championship game – the third game in three nights – 24 hours after his 37-point, double OT performance, Hart still led the Summer League in scoring at 22.4 points per game, plus 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 45 percent shooting. He was well over 40 percent from three before going 0 for 6 from three against Portland, the legs just not quite there. Hart showed improved ballhandling to create his own shot off the dribble, and an improved release to sink the three-pointer off the dribble once creating space. He brought the ball up in transition, found shooters in screen/roll situations, and got to the cup when he wanted to finish through traffic with both hands. In short, he was terrific.

    SVI BREAKS OUT, MOE SHOWS SIGNS
    Typically in NBA Draft history, the No. 47 overall pick in the second round is a flier that’s unlikely to stick on a roster after the first year or two. Here are the last four 47’s: Ike Anigbogu, Jake Layman, Arturas Gudaitis, and Russ Smith. But with the way the Lakers have drafted in general over the past few seasons with Jesse Buss running the show, you’d be forgiven for having slightly higher expectations than the average 47th pick (remember that Jordan Clarkson went No. 46 overall and made it to the All-NBA Rookie First Team, one of only four second rounders in the previous 30 years to do so).

    But even the most optimistic reading of Svi Mykhailiuk wouldn’t have had him beating out lottery picks and first round picks from the last two drafts to make the All Summer League Second Team. The thing is, he did so rather obviously, averaging 16.6 points, 4.0 boards and 2.1 assists on 48.3 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from three in 24.8 minutes per game. His reputation as a shooter was immediately clear, and with his quick release and smooth follow through, it was only a surprise that more than 2.9 out of 7.0 attempts didn’t go in. Impressively, he wasn’t just hitting threes in catch-and-shoot situations. Svi has a good enough handle to create shots off the dribble, including in a crossover-to-step-back move that had Vegas crowds on their feet more than once. But as Kyle Kuzma tweeted, he’s more than just a shooter.

    Mykhailiuk actually grew up playing some point guard, and showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for teammates when defenders closed him out – which of course happened often due to the respect for his jumper. He also moves his feet well on defense, and is competitive enough to almost immediately go for a steal after missing shots, but not at the risk of getting back in transition. All good things.

    Meanwhile, we essentially got five fewer games than the seven Svi played to analyze Moe Wagner, who suffered a knee contusion early in the third game against New York. Wagner went for 16 points with eight boards, three steals, two blocks and an assist in the opening win against Philly, and eight points with 14 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists against Chicago the next night.

    Coming into the Draft, one of the main talking points around Wagner was whether or not he’d be able to move his feet defensively to stay with NBA players, and while he wasn’t isolated much against elite guards, it was certainly a good side to see all the steals and blocks and rebounds, a good indication that he’s reading the play and helping at the right times. Wagner didn’t shoot the ball as well as one may have expected based on his 39.4 percent from three as a junior, but his stroke looked pretty good, and defenses have to respect him from beyond the line. Something that stood out immediately was his energetic, infectious personality, and that’s only going to benefit a Lakers team that Pelinka and Magic referred to as pretty quiet last season, especially on the basketball court.

    Let’s not forget about Isaac Bonga, the 39th pick out of Frankfurt, Germany, who played sparingly, and thus didn’t have much of a sample size to draw from. We do know one thing: he’s huge for a point guard at 6’9’’, and has a very intriguing skillset, as he sees the court very well, can handle the basketball and is versatile defensively since he’s stronger than you might think an 18-year-old with so much length might be. Vegas was clearly an adjustment for Bonga from his time with Skyliners Frankfurt in Germany, and he turned the ball over quite a bit (2.4 per game in 9.0 minutes), but you could see flashes from him on an explosion to the rim here, a fullcourt pass over the top there, a rebound in traffic and so on. One figures he’ll get minutes on the South Bay Lakers, where his development will be closely monitored.

    QUICK HITTERS

  • Jeff Ayres, who at age 31 was one of the oldest players in Vegas, got a late call from Nick Mazzella, and flew in to help lead the summer league team after the Lakers waived Thomas Bryant. Ayres was terrific not just on-court (where he averaged 10.4 points and 5.3 boards while calling out defensive coverages and talking trash to the opponents) but off, as he showed many of the young guys how to be a pro. Also: check out this story if you want to learn why he changed his name.
  • If Josh Hart was L.A.’s leader, Alex Caruso was his top lieutenant. Caruso led the team in assists (5.2), charges drawn, scrappy and effective defense and toughness, and his being less than 100 percent due to gastroenteritis certainly cost them in the final. He’ll be in camp as a two-way player, with a chance to make the full roster.
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a strong showing for L.A.’s, mostly coming off the bench at PG behind Caruso, posting 8.9 points per game plus 3.7 assists, solid numbers for 19.7 minutes of action. He made some of the biggest plays in L.A.’s semifinal win over Memphis, including a game-tying three in the final minute of overtime, then an assist and layup that decided the double OT.
  • Jonathan Williams started at power forward in Vegas and stood out on defense, while Nick King provided some needed bench scoring. Jeffrey Carroll, Malik Newman and DeMarcus Holland also came off the bench and put up a few buckets in short stints.
  • That’ll do it for now. See you in Vegas next summer.

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