I haven’t anticipated an NBA game like this one in a long time. We were finally going to get to see our young core take the floor together.
The Lakers lost, but in the Summer League, wins and losses aren’t that important as long as the young players look good and are playing solid basketball. Anyway, here’s what I took away from the game.
- Russell was obviously the player everyone was most looking forward to seeing, and he didn’t disappoint. He looked really comfortable out there, and the game didn’t look too fast for him, despite what Kevin Ding says. He’s just so smooth with the ball, and in pick-and-rolls. I always say this, but it feels like he’s going to do something incredible when he has the ball. And he’s not just a flashy player, he always seems to make the right play. One play that stood out was when he was going to take a pull-up three from the wing, but before he went up with the shot, he saw Tarik Black with good position in the middle of the paint. Rather than taking the three, he fired it into Black, who had a relatively easy finish.
He also did things that everyone knows he can do. He had some jaw-dropping dimes, hit a couple shots of the dribble, and was even causing some havoc on defense with three steals. I think this kid is going to be a star. The game just comes so easy to him.
- Tarik Black is a beast. The guy is undersized, but he certainly makes up for it with effort. He had 13 rebounds, and despite his limitations, challenged a lot of shots at the rim. He also had a sick face-up drive against Karl Towns that resulted in a dunk. He’s the ultimate energy player and should be fixture on the Lakers for years to come.
- Oh yeah, Jordan Clarkson was awesome too. He’s definitely going to be the best player on this Summer League team. I don’t think we have to worry that much about he and Russell meshing, as they played well together when on the floor today. Clarkson from a physical standpoint looks stronger and quicker than last season. His jumper looked smoother, and he looked more comfortable operating in pick-and-rolls. He’s still a nightmare to guard in transition, and I think Zach LaVine would agree with that. He finished with 23 points.
- Anthony Brown really knows what his role is. He didn’t try to do much with the ball, and even though he didn’t shoot that well tonight, he’s one of those players that when he shoots the ball, you always assume it’s going to go in. That’s basically my non-scientific way of knowing whether a player is a good shooter or not. His shooting form is so effortless.
His shooting ability will be there from day one, and it’s his defensive ability (or lack thereof) that will determine how many minutes he gets moving forward. Aside from a few miscommunications (I don’t know if they were his fault or not), he seemed to hold his own there on the defensive end.
- And finally, BIG BLOCK BOB. When Upshaw first checked in, Towns hit an and-one turnaround jumper on him. I was like “oh no, he’s going to get embarrassed out there”. The very next play, Upshaw hit a nearly identical fadeaway over Towns. And the foul. Those were the only two points he had, but his best work came on the defensive end as usual. He really gave Towns and other Timberwolves fits down low with his length. Towns managed to score over his length a few times, but sometimes good offense just beats good defense. The important thing is that he was making the shots tougher to make. Nonetheless, Upshaw had a stretch where he had like 2-3 blocks on Karl-Anthony Towns in quick succession. He and everyone else in the building were hyped. He might’ve been too hyped as he then proceeded to put a shoulder into Towns to pick up an offensive foul, but that’s excusable just this once. He has to be more disciplined in the future.
All in all though, it was really encouraging that he was able to hold his own and then some despite being out of game shape. He’s going to need some seasoning no doubt, but his defensive potential is clear. As long as he doesn’t do something stupid, he should be a lock to make the team.
- The worst thing tonight, by far, was the coaching staff and schemes that were used. The Lakers were running a motion offense, and usually spent the first 15 seconds of a shot clock going through the progressions of the offense, but without much luck finding a decent look. Finally when the clock was winding down, they’d just run a high pick-and-roll for either Russell and Clarkson, or they’d throw it in the post for Randle or Black to go to work. The motion offense just isn’t working, and it forces the offense into a tough situation when the clock is nearing zero. They need to move into a simpler offense that they can get into more quickly. You know, like a basic high pick-and-roll. Especially when Russell and Clarkson are so comfortable in it. The offense they ran tonight was more structured than anything I saw from the Lakers last season, and that’s not a good thing since these players have only practiced together a couple times. They need to use a more free-flowing offense.
- Another not so good part of tonight’s game was Julius Randle. You probably shouldn’t look too much into this game, since he hasn’t played in a real basketball game since last October, but there still were things about his performance tonight that were concerning. He didn’t finish at the rim well, and that doesn’t really bother me right now, but his lack of effort on the defensive end is not what I wanted to see. There were two occasions where it did not look good. One, he failed to completely even make an effort to rotate to challenge LaVine at the rim. It resulted in an uncontested layup. The other time was when after a turnover, he didn’t really make an effort to get back to challenge a layup attempt, even though he might’ve been able to block it, or at least make the attempt a little tougher.
What might have been even worse than his defense was his lack of rebounding. He played 20 minutes and didn’t grab one defensive rebound. Not one. I’ll have to watch the game again to see exactly how he played that long without grabbing a single board, but from what I saw during the game, he wasn’t boxing out well. He doesn’t have great length and isn’t quick off his feet, so it’s important that he establishes position and shields his man from the ball. Hopefully this is just the case of him still getting his timing back, or something, but it definitely was discouraging.
Physically, Randle looked good and that might be what’s most important. His first step was lightning quick, and he looked stronger than ever. He made Adreian Payne look foolish out there. Julius was quicker and stronger than him, and that’s probably going to be the case with a lot of players that are forced to guard Randle in the future.
- And lastly, Larry Nance didn’t have a great performance. He was all over the place, but not always in a good way. He was a little too aggressive on defense, and it led him to pick up 6 fouls in 11 minutes. He missed a wide-open mid-range jumper, but that happens and I’m not too upset by that. I mean, he really wasn’t bad, it’s just that his over-the-top effort really didn’t translate into good basketball plays. That won’t always be the case. It’s not like he looks lost out there or as if he doesn’t belong.
The Lakers are back in action tomorrow at 5:30 PST. Julius Randle will not play (rest).