Yesterday the Lakers played their first game of the Vegas Summer League against the Detroit Pistons, losing 89-85 to the summer squad from the motor city. And while we all know it’s never safe to take too much from the games that happen in July, a few of the prospects on this years’ team looked good. Below are some of my thoughts on what I saw:
Devin Ebanks: The WVU product has a reputation as a long athlete that excels at defense while also having a feel for finding open spaces on offense. In game one, I saw some of these traits on display but was left looking for more in others. On the positive side, Ebanks is definitely a plus athlete with long limbs that enable him to change ends quickly and get to loose balls. He does seem to have a feel for finding creases in the defense as a slasher and showed good ability to finish in the lane on both the break and in the half court. I was especially impressed with his body control around the bucket as on more than one occasion he was able to make difficult finishes look routine by turning his body to avoid defenders or take the hit and still get up a good look. He also showed good instincts by collecting 2 steals and I was pleased with the way that he went to the glass, his rebound total (2) notwithstanding.
On the negative side, his on ball defense wasn’t too impressive. He seemed overly reliant on his reach/length to disrupt plays and was often caught out of position and tried to reach to make up for being beat. His ability to change of direction seemed only average and he showed a want to over help at times. Some of these things should (and likely will) be corrected with more coaching and I also got the impression that some of his actions were based off instincts born from playing with an undersized group in college. Remember, Ebanks was one of the better rebounders on his team and his height was surely something his coaches asked him to take advantage of by being a helper in the paint. If he’s to be a productive defensive player in the league – and especially on the Lakers – he’ll need to understand that he has big men behind him to protect the basket and he’ll need to pressure ball handlers more on the wing while not sagging as much when off the ball.
Overall, I was pleased that he shot the ball efficiently (9-16) and that he rarely seemed to force the action when he had the ball in his hands. He made one of his three attempts from 3 point range and he looked comfortable with the ball in his hands. Obviously one game doesn’t make me think he’s suddenly going to be a contributor, but I do think his size and skill set match what the Lakers need and that he didn’t hurt himself at all with his performance. If anything, he showed that he can have a role on the Lakers as a slasher that finds the gaps in the defense that are sure to be there when Kobe/Pau/Bynum/Odom/Artest are in the game. And as a defender, while needing some work, I still think he’s got the body and athletic ability to be a very good perimeter stopper-type. We’ll see if he can duplicate his offensive performance and pick up his defensive performance against Denver this afternoon.
Derrick Caracter: Coming into these games the word on Caracter was that he had first round talent but his attitude may cost him a spot in this league. In his roundup from day 1 of the summer league, Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop quoted David Thorpe when discussing Caracter:
“His nine fouls show how aggressively he moved around the floor. He looked like he was in good shape — very nimble and agile. He was composed around the basket with both his left and right hand, but he doesn’t have a plan in the post yet. Still, he played with great attentiveness and a willingness to share the ball. Bottom line: He looked like a first-rounder.”
And really, I agree with Thorpe as Caracter did look like a first rounder out there. He played with poise and with an above average skill level. He knew how to get position in the post and looked very natural playing with his back to the basket. He showed a nice jump hook with both hands to the middle of the floor and rebounded the ball well. I thought he also showed very good outlet passing (an underrated trait) and initiated several running opportunities by picking out guards racing up the floor with on target heaves. Overall, I think his offense is NBA ready.
However, his defense is not. In an email exchange I had with Phillip, he told me that Caracter “looked disinterested at times” and I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. He sometimes jogged into recovery position after showing on the P&R and he didn’t always rotate well when trying to seal off the penetration of the opposing guards. However, these are mistakes that a lot of players make every day in the big boys league, so it’s not time to sound the alarm. Plus, there wasn’t a chronic lack of hustle from Caracter, there were just a few times that you could tell he wasn’t going hard. Maybe his high minutes total had something to do with it as he played nearly 36 of the possible 40 minutes. Like Ebanks, I’d like to see if Caracter can carry over the positives from his game performance (efficient shooting, above average rebounding) into game 2 while picking up his defensive effort and effectiveness.
Everyone else: The other players that impressed me were DJ Strawberry and Ibrahim Jaaber. Both of these guys played to their strengths and played hard. And while both players showed limited upside as shooters, they both excelled in different areas on offense. Strawberry, like Ebanks, worked well off the ball and was a very good attack player with the rock in his hands. He drove aggressively to the hoop and earned himself a team high 7 attempts from the foul line. Jaaber, meanwhile, ran the offense well and showed his chops as a PG that can organize a team, handle defensive ball pressure, and play with poise in both the open court in when initiating half court sets.
As for the NBA names that we know, Rob Kurz played well scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 boards in his 24 minutes. He showed a better feel around the basket than I anticipated and showed good instincts when going to the offensive glass. I still see him as a bit of a tweener PF, but I thought he showed that he’s still an NBA level player – albeit an end of the bench guy. As for Gerald Green…meh. I just didn’t see any growth in his game from the last time we saw him. Yes the athleticism is still there but so is the lack of awareness and poor feel for the game. I really do think he’s one of those preps to pros players that really could have benefited from college coaching where he could have learned to utilize his ability in a productive way or found a niche where he could be successful in a way that translates to the pros. Right now he still doesn’t seem to get it and I’m not sure he ever will.
As mentioned above the Lakers resume their summer league play this afternoon against Denver at 3pm here on the west coast. We’ll get you more thoughts on that game after the results and hope to have some video up in the next couple of days with some examples of what we’re talking about in the reviews.