Archives For Summer League

In this episode of the Laker Film Room podcast, Pete and I recap the Lakers summer league, specifically looking at Lonzo Ball’s play, the revelation that was Kyle Kuzma, and then forecast out what, if anything, can be taken from Vegas and transplanted into the regular season.

We also get into the construction of the roster, discuss potential veteran point guard options, and take an early look at projecting style of play with the group that currently exists.

Click through to give the entire episode a listen.

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The Lakers may have won the summer league championship on the strength of Kyle Kuzma’s championship game performance (30 points, 10 rebounds — which fell in line with his strong play this summer overall), but Lonzo Ball was the MVP of the Las Vegas league.

The Lakers rookie PG averaged 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 9.3 assists and dazzled fans nightly with a combination of his basketball IQ and feel as a passer. We wrote about how special Lonzo is, but sometimes words just don’t do it justice. Only seeing what this kid was doing — especially as a passer — can give you the appropriate appreciation.

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With the 27th pick in the NBA draft, the Lakers selected Kyle Kuzma, PF out of Utah. The analysis at the time said the Utes big man had an intriguing mix of skill and smooth athleticism all in the body of a 6’10 dude. After the draft, in what has become typical Rob Pelinka fashion, the GM said that they were “doing backflips” that Kuzma was still there when the team made their selection. Meanwhile, fans were…well, I don’t know what, exactly.

Kuzma wasn’t exactly a well known college player to me. Maybe I’m not the best barometer of these things (I don’t watch much college ball), but I was fairly familiar with Josh Hart (who the Lakers took at pick #30) and was aware of several other prospects who were supposed to be selected in the range where Kuzma ended up going (fwiw, Kuzma was ranked #43 by Draft Express before the draft). Whenever I don’t know anything about something, I dive in and see what I can learn. What I saw from Kuzma was a player with some skill (I liked his passing), some good athletic ability (I liked the way he changed ends), a guy who showed some promise as a shooter, and someone who would compete defensively.

In other words, Kuzma checked a lot of boxes. I thought he might be someone who could develop over time, but someone who would have trouble cracking the rotation because of the dept the team already had a PF. Julius Randle and Larry Nance are established rotation players. Luol Deng will likely need minutes at PF if he’s going to get minutes at all. There’s even the hope that Ingram can moonlight some at PF in certain lineups. So, yeah. Kuzma was a nice pick, but “backflips” he was still on the board? For a guy who might not play?

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It can be a hard negotiation with yourself, summer league.

You see the numbers, but you also want to discredit them. I mean, I was listening to the Basketball Analogy Podcast and ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh rattled off the top scorers from the Vegas league dating back to 2005. The list had some impressive names (including Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard), but also a bunch of other random dudes who carved out fine enough careers, but never turned into franchise altering players.

Lonzo Ball isn’t on the list of Vegas’ top bucket getters, but he’s putting up other types of numbers. He’s leading all of Vegas in assists. He’s rung up two triple-doubles in his last three games and had a 36 point, 11 assist contest sandwiched in the middle of them. Even though his outside shot isn’t falling, the numbers pop. I so badly want them to matter, but understand any weight I want them to carry comes with a caveat of this being Las Vegas in July, not STAPLES Center in May or June.

The eye test can be funny, too, because the human brain can be funny. It has a way of attaching value to things to create a lasting memory; a way of ascribing importance to things that verify what you already want to believe while diminishing the things which don’t quite fit into your pre-established outlook.

As I negotiate that in my head, though, a realization starts to seep in. I don’t care if it’s only summer league, Lonzo Ball is special.

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Early this morning, it was reported that the Lakers would be signing Alex Caruso to a contract. This was the first report I, personally, saw:

Ramona Shelburne is reporting further details, noting it will be a 2-year contract and one of the NBA’s new “two-way” deals which allows a player to shuffle between a parent club and their G-League affiliate. In this case, then, Caruso will likely spend most of his time with the South Bay Lakers, though could get an opportunity with the Lakers for stretches.

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After a rough first outing that saw him shoot poorly (though make good decisions overall) and then bounce back with a triple double in his second game, things were looking up for Lonzo Ball in Las Vegas. Then, a sore groin kept him out of a game against the Kings and De’Aaron Fox, which prompted critiques and calls of him “ducking the fade” coming to him from the former Kentucky guard who dropped a boatload of points on the Bruins in the NCAA tourney.

So, it seemed like whatever progress Ball made had been reeled back in. That narrative got flipped on its head Wednesday night, though. Rocking a purple pair of Kobe AD’s instead of his own BBB kicks, Lonzo came out and played the game fans and critics alike were wanting to see from him.

36 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, and two blocks. He hit 12 of his 22 shots, got to the rim in the half court, and dominated the transition game with full court attacks off the bounce and via outlet passes to streaking teammates. This was the guy the Lakers drafted #2 overall. He was glorious.

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The Alex Caruso game.

If you logged on to twitter at any point before the Lakers hit the hardwood to face off against the Kings, but after it was reported that Lonzo Ball would sit out due to a sore groin, you might have seen that thrown out there in part jest. I mean, Caruso is a fine player who showed some good ability playing for OKC’s G-League affiliate last year, but I think even his biggest believers wouldn’t have thought this was coming.

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What you find out at NBA summer league is almost always dependent on what it is you’re looking for. It is the nature of this environment where, coming off the heels of the draft, most people have preconceived notions about who or what a prospect is and then go about confirming those when seeing them on the Thomas and Mack hardwood.

Go back a couple of years. You think D’Angelo Russell is going to be a bust? Well, that’s confirmed via a poor shooting night and the lack of drives and finishes at the rim. You think Jahlil Okafor is going to be a stud big man? Well, that’s confirmed with him beasting dudes in the post and showing some deft face up moves from 18 feet an in. Even if those things aren’t really true in the aggregate, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s pretty easy to get there through some surface observations.

Thing is, finding what you’re looking for isn’t the point of summer league. In fact, it’s hard to really decipher what the point is at all.

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