The Lakers Summer League team wrapped up their stint in Las Vegas over the weekend, and despite their 1-4 record, the team displayed notable flashes of a potentially prosperous future for the purple and gold. Now, fans understandably remain restless about the team’s disappointing performance and with that, Silver Screen & Roll’s Harrison Faigen provided perspective on their struggles (Hint: It’s OK):

They may have a fire to win and improve that goes beyond their years, but Russell is just a 19-year-old rookie that still wants to use a Gatorade bottle as a microphone to ask questions to Clarkson in a post-win media scrum. Randle is basically a rookie after barely playing more than 10 regular season minutes last year. Clarkson is 23, but is only a year removed from being the 46th overall pick in the NBA draft. While this core may have plenty of promise, the reality is they require some patience while they grow.

Madsen was quick to blame the team’s sluggish start against New York on it being a “mistake” to give the team a day off on Sunday. He may be right, but just as responsible was the Princeton offense the team was attempting to quickly implement and run to effectiveness despite very little practice time. The fact that grind-out halfcourt possessions is pretty much the opposite of what this team’s strengths should be only made it harder to witness.


In the interest of Summer League, the team’s most consistent performer was, without question, Jordan Clarkson. Last week, we recommended a piece that focused on his transition into a combo-guard role for the upcoming season (which you can read here). Now to continue with the theme of his development, Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney detailed how Clarkson’s proficiency as a midrange shooter is bucking a trend of the new, long distance-oriented NBA:

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson has a counterpoint game. While the broader trends of the league encourage guards to drive headlong to the rim or launch up three-pointers at will, Clarkson has carved out an immediate, intentional niche from midrange. In doing so, the 23-year-old works as something of an exploit. Modern NBA defenses are built to take away specific kinds of shots. Clarkson operates in a way that mines that give and take, stepping into the wide open midrange shots that many defenses naturally concede.

“It’s all two points,” Clarkson said. “Getting there and getting to those spots is definitely an emphasis because I think they’re easy shots for me.”

The majority of NBA teams now guard pick-and-rolls with some variation of a “drop” scheme—in which the big man defending the screener hangs back around the foul line—specifically because the midrange pull-up is a hard shot to hit consistently. It can be rushed. It can be crowded. By default it returns fewer points per possession than a three-point jumper or an attempt from the restricted area, which is why those spaces on the floor are now defensive priorities.

For more on Clarkson and how he is aiming to build upon his success last season, Mark Medina of the Daily News took an in-depth look at Clarkson’s growth from last year’s draft up to this year’s showing in Vegas. The piece details a few specific measures Clarkson is taking to improve upon each aspect of his game, and yes, that includes expanding his range:

DiFrancesco said Clarkson has added 10 to 15 pounds in muscle, increasing his weight from 180 to between 190-195 pounds. Clarkson has completed various strength exercises two days a week, including chin-ups, bench presses, squats, dead lifts and band resistance drills, and focuses two other days on leg exercises.

The Lakers believe this will make Clarkson more equipped to defend stronger guards, finish with more efficiency and minimize injury to any tendons.

Meanwhile, Clarkson narrowed his focus with Hanlen on three things nearly every day.

To improve his outside shooting, Clarkson altered his balance by jumping straight up and tweaked his release point by raising his right elbow.

To improve his pick-and-roll execution, Clarkson has dropped his hips and relaxed his chest so that he can move at a more methodical and efficient pace.

To improve his finishing at the rim, Clarkson has varied his attempts with both hands.

If interested in more on Clarkson’s background, work ethic, the pre-draft process and his honest perspective on last season, the above pieces certainly deserve a read.

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Free agency might not have been the smoothest ride for the Lakers, but through all the ups and downs they did pretty well for themselves by grabbing Lou Williams, Brandon Bass, and Roy Hibbert (via trade). These players have added veteran experience and tangible, useful skill-sets to a roster which needed some stability. All three players should help in the upward trajectory of the team and the Lakers, all things considered, are lucky to have them.

But just because these players have been added, it doesn’t mean the Lakers should consider their off-season over. Player acquisition is a 365 days-a-year job and, as we saw with the rumors of a Ty Lawson chase, the Lakers’ brass takes that job seriously. Looking ahead to next year, then, you can imagine the front office would still like make a move or two — regardless of what their public stance on this might be.

A simple look at the current depth chart gives us a look at what direction the team might need to go in:

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When Kobe Bryant has been discussed in relation to the Lakers’ recent draft picks and young talent, the word mentor is one of the first words likely spoken. During summer league, announcers consistently spoke about how much D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle could learn from Kobe — a process that, for Randle already began last year. Whether it is work ethic, training techniques, mental approach, strategy, or tactics on how to approach an opponent, the message is the same: Kobe can teach these young kids the game and they should take full advantage of this while he’s still on the team.

This, of course, is 100% correct. Kobe is an all time great and whatever knowledge he can pass on to the next generation of (hopeful) Lakers’ franchise players, the better. When Julius Randle speaks about how much Kobe helped him in his rehab via helping him to break down film and from a mental preparation standpoint, we all nod our heads and say “this is great”. It’s even easier to think of how he can help Russell in similar ways, especially since both players are guards and the amount of time Kobe has spent beating the types of defensive coverages Russell is likely to see next season and beyond.

While this aspect of Kobe’s role is important — and likely have the most lasting impression — we should not forget that Kobe will also need to help these players on the court.

Part of the reason why this doesn’t come up as much is almost surely because no one really knows how much Kobe has left. His last three seasons have ended via injury. When he was finally “healthy” to start last season, he had some flashes of brilliance as a playmaker and scorer, but also saw his efficiency plummet and his effectiveness suffer for longer stretches than any other season besides his rookie campaign.

Still, Kobe’s presence on the court and ability to impact the game will be important to the young players. We must remember that he’s the only playmaker on the roster not named Clarkson, Russell, or Randle. His ability to be a passer and set up man might be the difference between the young players having to create shots for themselves (or each other) exclusively, or having it done for them. His scoring and finishing ability could turn the types of passes we saw in Vegas go unfulfilled turn into actual points. His ability to bend the defense could give the young players the little bit of extra space that turns a contested look into an open one.

These might seem as though they are little things or only produce short term gains for the young players, but they matter in the larger scheme of their development. Young players need all the success they can get in these early stages and Kobe is likely the only veteran who can aid in that success most through his ability to actually make players better (at least offensively). Of course the young players will need to do this for each other as well and, over the course of their careers the chemistry they develop will do more for making the game easy than a single season of Kobe.

But, in this short term, Kobe will need to help too. And he’ll need to do it on the floor, in the games just as he’ll need to in the film room, in practice, and in the locker room as the mentor many expect him to be.

If you listen to D’Angelo Russell talk, he will mostly discuss ways he needs to improve. He’ll talk about needing to get stronger, cut down on his turnovers, pay more attention defensively, and on and on. He understands he’s young, is a work in progress, and that he did not have his best showing in Summer League.

But, even though Russell clearly could have played better, the flashes of what he can be were there. His court vision is sublime and his ability to see plays developing ahead of time got his teammates a lot of good looks over the team’s five games in Vegas. And while his shot wasn’t as accurate as it could have been, in the team’s final LVSL game against the Jazz, he got the hot hand and showed off some of the shot making that earned him All-American honors after his lone season at Ohio St:

What stood out to me most from the barrage of made shots is how effortlessly he shoots the ball. The ease in which he rises up and simply flicks the ball is a beautiful thing. In fact, it’s this motion and smoothness of his jumper that left me almost totally unconcerned with his shooting percentage in the Lakers’ previous four games.

What also stood out to me, however, was how often Russell was creating his own shot off the dribble and how this really is only one aspect of how he can score. While at OSU, Russell did great work off screens and also showed he could be a fine spot up option. In Vegas, the combination of the sets the team ran and his role as the primary ball handler didn’t allow these other parts of his game to shine through. Come the regular season, though, when he’s on the floor with Kobe and as he gains more chemistry with Clarkson and Randle, I do believe he’ll get to expand the ways in which he scores.

That’s down the line, though. For now, watch Russell cook in the video above again. He ended his time in Vegas the way we all like to, with the hot and hand and cashing in.

The Lakers wrap up their summer league play today, taking on the Jazz. This will be their 5th game in seven days, or basically enough time to get a rhythm and be a bit worn down after not likely playing much full court basketball of any import over the previous few months. Of course, one could argue the import of these games as well, so…

In any event, the Lakers are 1-3 to this point but are coming off their best game of the tournament in Wednesday’s loss to the Mavs. That game saw Julius Randle breakout, D’Angelo Russell show some fantastic playmaking instincts, Jabari Brown show off his all court scoring game, and Jordan Clarkson continue to look impressive as a shot creator and finisher. Add in the better flow offensively and a more team oriented approach to their sets and I think fans got a lot out of the game even thought it was a loss.

Heading into today’s game, my biggest hope is that these kids are able to build on some of those positive steps forward. As I wrote about heading into this process, I’m not so concerned about wins and losses or even the individual statistics of the players. I’m looking for positives in their games that can be carried forward into the regular season and whatever negatives exhibited are ones that can be worked on, learned from, and minimized going forward.

So far, I’ve seen little to really be overly concerned about while also seeing some positives that can be built upon. Yes, it would be nice if Russell shot better or if Randle did more work on the glass. I’d have liked to see Nance bury a mid-range jumper or two and for Anthony Brown to get a bit more burn (and get some more spot up chances). I’m not going to worry about these things, though. These are young players and we’re playing the long game, not looking for short term gains on players who are very far from finished products.

With that, enjoy the game today folks. It will be the last Lakers’ basketball we see for at least a couple of months. Hopefully the team can go out with a W powered by some strong performances from players they have so much hope for. But, even if they don’t, trust that the work will be put in so they can be better the next time we see them.

“I don’t see why we don’t contend for a playoff spot,” he said. “But our young players have to grow beyond their years and we have to stay healthy.”

From: GM Mitch Kupchak sees playoff potential in Lakers after offseason pickups

Before I focused solely on writing about the NBA, I worked in public relations. One of – if not the – top priorities was to temper clients’ expectations, which is exactly why I was slightly taken aback when Mitch Kupchak made his comments on the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Why go there?

When the Lakers’ summer league team went to Las Vegas, the talent on the team and these undo expectations informed what many thought would be a nice showing. The end result, however, was a summer league that, in many ways, played out like a microcosm of what we’ll probably see this season.

I was there for those first few games. The atmosphere in each of them was incredible, though I’m not sure it was worth the effect losing in front of those record-breaking crowds had on the players, many of whom not even old enough to partake in Las Vegas’ more notorious activities.

Here’s D’Angelo Russell after last night’s game, via NBCLA’s Shahan Ahmed:

A group of kids shouldn’t bear this kind of pressure for a group of exhibition games with only a handful of practices together under their belts, yet, throughout social media, there were the #SummerLeagueChamps slogans weighing on every turnover, every missed shot.

Let’s compare this week’s activities to how this season will probably go.

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The Summer Lakers were eliminated from the Las Vegas Summer League Playoffs on Wednesday after falling to the Dallas Mavericks 88-86. One would not be wrong to consider the team’s showing in Las Vegas quite disappointing. Be it the Russell turnovers, Randle’s rust, or an overall lack of chemistry, the talented group just wasn’t the cohesive unit we had hoped it would be.

So, given the current uneasiness of Lakers fans, our friend Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk clarified that the team is currently undergoing a rebuild and in such a process, composure is key:

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In this Summer League tournament, the Lakers were seeded 11th and drew the Dallas Mavericks. They, however, lost a close one, 88-86 after the unstoppable Jeremy Tyler (25 points off 11/15 shooting and 11 rebounds) tipped in the game-winner with 1.4 seconds left.

The Lakers looked much better offensively out of the gate but they still had a bad defensive start as the Mavericks seemed to score at will inside and from three. L.A. came back strong in the second half but D’Angelo Russell had a late turnover with 23 seconds left when they had a chance to take the lead. That led to the Tyler tip-in. The Lakers couldn’t get a shot off in the last possession and the Mavs took the duke.

Head coach Mark Madsen took responsibility for the last play and the loss. He complimented Julius Randle’s play, who easily had his best game in Summer League. Madsen thought the team played overall but kept emphasizing that the loss was on the coaching staff overall. Madsen pointed out that D’Angelo Russell played relaxed in that game.

Randle, who finished with 17 points (6/11 shooting), is still not pleased over his 20-minute cap but he knows he has to keep it in perspective. He was trying to “create for others and then for himself.” He felt he played much better because he “slowed down” against the Mavs. I asked if there was a concerted effort to get him off to a good start as he made his first four shots early and he answered that he was just taking what was given to him.

Jordan Clarkson ended with 17 points and had his third good game in Summer League. I had mentioned that Clarkson probably shouldn’t play in Summer League but he is because he would rather play than “sit on the couch and watch the games at home.” And as we suspected, he wants to get the chemistry going with Russell, Randle, and the rest of the guys. He knows that they have to turn this around real soon.

Russell ended with an 8-6-5 line. While he didn’t shoot well again (3 for 11), he did end with only three turnovers (though the last one was costly). Like Madsen said, he looked much more relaxed in this contest. His passes were looking great as his teammates were starting to catch the balls. D’Angelo likes the balance of he and Clarkson sharing the ballhandling duties off the break. He doesn’t seem to care all that much about the expectations of being the #2 pick; he cares more about winning and not letting the “whole Laker nation down.” Russell understands how huge that fan base is.

I like that Randle continues to get to his spots easily; he is such a bull. This time around, he’s finishing and that quick start definitely gave him some confidence. Randle is a rhythm player and he got it going in that game even though he is still on that minute cap. Clarkson had a big third quarter as he scored nine of his 17 points there. He continues to be fearless driving the ball and taking the midrange. Russell has talked about getting better defensively but he’s still getting caught ball-watching as he was getting beat on the backdoor. And Jabari Brown did his part with his 19 points. And as he mentioned postgame, shooters shoot. Yup. Shoot your shot, Jabari.

The Lakers will play one more game tomorrow. In terms of Summer League championship, they can’t win it anymore with the loss. But in the long run, it’s good to see these guys get one more run and continue to build on their chemistry. It is a process and it’s going to be a long one. We all have to be patient. Just remember that we’re still only in the month of July and we all have to slow down on calling these players busts or the greatest thing since Kobe Bryant.