Friday’s Lakers’ LVSL opener offered glimpses of what is and, maybe more important, what might be when it comes to the prospects of some key players. And even though the Lakers lost the game, there were some good takeaways to be had.

Heading into Saturday’s game, we already know that Julius Randle will not play as the coaches prefer to ease him back into the action after not playing any meaningful basketball in nearly 10 months. Even without Randle, though, there will be plenty to evaluate and more add to our knowledge base about the young guys on the team.

With that, here are five thoughts and things I’ll be watching closely in this match up against the 76ers:

1. Will the team look any more comfortable non-pick and roll sets? Whenever the team tried to run any of the pure Princeton actions, they looked like they just learned the stuff last week. That, of course, is true. So, in a way, we shouldn’t have high expectations for how well they execute these actions. That said, the hope is that with more reps, the comfort level will increase and the players can start to find good looks within the structure of these sets. In order to make this happen, the off-ball screens must be better and the players must move with more certainty and tempo. We’ll see how it goes.

2. I’m interested in seeing if Russell tries to create any looks for himself in isolation. On Friday, nearly every one of his shots came out of the P&R or in semi transition. I’m not complaining about the lack of iso’s, but considering one of the knocks on Russell coming out of college was his lack of athleticism, I’m interested in seeing if he can create separation using his handle and craft to either get into the paint or to find his mid-range jumper. He did this fine in college, of course. But this is no longer college.

3. Well hello there, Jahlil Okafor. I don’t need to remind folks that when it was time for the Lakers to make their draft pick, many thought Okafor would be the guy instead of Russell. Well, Okafor gets his first shot at revenge today and it will be interesting to see how he manages. Okafor’s already had games this summer and he’s looked pretty good in all the ways you’d expect. Will he do the same against Tarik Black and Robert Upshaw? How will he manage when the Lakers put him in P&R’s defensively? Russell and Clarkson are sure to find ways to pick on him in this action and I’m interested in seeing how he does.

4. Speaking of Upshaw, he will no longer be a free agent after the Lakers will reportedly sign him to a two-year contract after he made his pro debut Friday’s game. The deal, reportedly, carries a partial guarantee for this upcoming season and is fully non-guaranteed for the second year. He will make the league minimum for both years. This is a good gamble for the Lakers and offers little risk. Upshaw is clearly not yet ready to be contributor, but you can see the tools he possesses and he has an on-court demeanor I can appreciate. He plays with passion, but is under control and is clearly competitive as you could see his desire to go toe-to-toe with #1 overall pick Karl Towns. I imagine he’ll have a similar approach when battling Okafor in this game.

5. Tony Mitchell is a guy who intrigues me. He has good size for a wing, is clearly athletic, and has reasonable skill with the ball in his hands. Of the guys who are looking to catch on, he impressed me much more than Dwight Buycks who, once again, seemed to be a guy who did a lot of dribbling to not really get anywhere with the ball. If Mitchell could play some SG as well as some SF for this summer team, his utility goes up a ton with Jabari Brown out until at least Monday. I’d like to see Mitchell more today, especially in lineups with Anthony Brown and Russell to see how he takes advantage of the extra space on the wing.

I have been going to Summer League since 2010 and I have never seen a crowd this large and heard so much noise.

They started opening up the upper deck to let in some more people. And I heard from another that there were more Laker fans in the Cox Pavilion (the gym across the way where another Summer League game is being played) just looking for this contest. It was insane and it was like we were in Staples Center, only without an organist. The Wolves would beat the Lakers, however, to the tune of 81-68.

On to the players, Jordan Clarkson looked awesome out there. At times, he looked dominant. He scored 23 points off 8 of 17 shooting. Clarkson mentioned that “stuff was starting to come easy and slow down” for him. He seemed very comfortable taking every open shot given to him from the midrange to the three (where he did shoot a not-so-good two for seven). But he finished well and was excellent off the ball. I noted that Jordan’s just at that level where he probably should sit out the rest of Summer League but I wouldn’t be opposed to him getting more time with D’Angelo Russell on the backcourt.

Speaking of Russell, he finished with eight points, five rebounds, and six assists. He noted that “the team was trying to do a little too much instead of settling down.” Russell was definitely guilty of that as he turned the ball over five times. But that’s normal for a team basically playing for the first time in an NBA setting. Russell also noted that he made a “lot of mental mistakes” and mentioned “he was sleeping a little bit on defense.” When pressed further about the mistakes, he mentioned about guys going backdoor and ball-watching on defense. I like that he owned up to those mental mistakes and I think that says a lot about him; Russell wants to be good at his job. No, he wants to be GREAT at it.

As for Julius Randle, it showed that he hasn’t played a game in a long time. According to Coach Mark Madsen, Randle had a limited time of 20 minutes on the court (he played 20:40). Julius definitely felt rusty but he did get it going towards the end (which he also mentioned himself), finishing with 11 points. He didn’t finish well and his jumper wasn’t there but it seemed like he got to the paint at will. It is his first game back so we should be a little forgiving. Randle also noted that he didn’t expect the crowd to be so crazy and that it reminded him of his Kentucky days.

Coach Madsen pointed out that the team had too many turnovers (20), that the defensive rotations weren’t there, and they didn’t box out enough (though the Wolves only outrebounded the Lakers by one). The Lakers were outscored by the Wolves, 25-12, in the fourth quarter in an exciting game that was close for the first three quarters.

The crowd got their money’s worth in a much-hyped Summer League match-up. But the fans should be excited with this young core. Hopefully, we can see more positive things out of this talented Summer League squad. And let’s hope so because this is pretty much most of the main core we’ll see in the regular season.

Final Score: Lakers 68, Timberwolves 81

And so went the most-hyped summer league game in recent  memory.

The anticipation beforehand was palpable, and why wouldn’t it be? A summer league game feature at least two fifths of each team’s potential starting five and had the top two picks facing off against each other for the first time ever.

Add to that the intrigue that comes with Julius Randle’s return to the court and you had a standing-room-only atmosphere. UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center had to pull back the curtains of the upper deck to fit fans who couldn’t find a seat in the lower bowl.

To those who wondered if the Lakers “brand” could handle two years of tanking, there’s your answer, at least for now.

The game started on a high note, as the names those fans came to see lived up to the price of admission.

For the cast majority of the game, Jordan Clarkson was the best player on the court for the Lakers. His counterpart, fellow second-year point guard Zach LaVine was similarly impressive. They finished with 23 and 24 points respectively.

D’Angelo Russell started well, faded a bit and recovered well enough to finish with a stat line of 8 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. It’s hard to expect much rhythm in the first live action with the Lakers’ pick-and-rolls, and the lack thereof showed for large portions of the game (Russell tallied 5 turnovers). Watch for that to improve as various combinations running those sets grow more accustomed to each other.

Randle probably looked the most rusty of the Lakers’ “big three.” His shot looked short, as if he was aiming the ball to the basket versus releasing the shot confidently. Once he gained some kind of rhythm, though, he showcased the strength the coaching staff and his teammates have been raving about. He only played 20 minutes and will skip tomorrow’s game. He said after the game he doesn’t like it, but that he understands why the team is being cautious.

The Lakers wound up losing the game, as their offense struggled to produce down the stretch. A loss today is obviously inauspicious, given the excitement leading into the event, but there was plenty positive to take away.

All in all, the game went about as expected. Rookies Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns showed flashes, but the best players on the court were the ones who’d been there before. The Lakers will face Jahlil Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday.

Stat of the day: Tarik Black finished with 10 fouls – he narrowly missed a triple double, notching 9 points and 13 rebounds. Welcome to summer league.

Writing about this year’s Lakers’ summer league team brings a bit of a strange feeling. In a normal Lakers’ summer session, there might be one or two key players worth watching; players who we think might end up being a rotation player or someone with a bright future. This season, though, is radically different and offers fans a chance to see players they will be fully invested in come October.

Despite Kobe returning and the additions of Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams to the main team, there are at least four players — D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Tariq Black — heading to Vegas who can expect to have a key role when the regular season rolls around. Add to this group Anthony Brown (who, as it stands today, is probably 3rd on the depth chart at SF behind Kobe and Nick Young), Larry Nance Jr. (who, as a first round pick, may also see some minutes this year as deep reserve/energy player), and Robert Upshaw (a project big man who has first round talent with undrafted free agent baggage) there are a lot of reasons to be excited.

This is a talented group of players — almost surely the most talented summer league team the Lakers have ever fielded — and I’m interested in seeing what they can do against other touted rookies and second year players. After all, it’s one thing to play 5-on-5 in practice where the guys on the opposite side are teammates, know all your plays, and have seen all your tendencies for the last week plus. It’s quite another to face off against a fairly stacked T-Wolves team (like they will on Friday) that includes this year’s #1 overall pick and last year’s slam dunk contest winner.

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As I write this article, I’m operating under the view the Roy Hibbert trade will take place later today. Given the DeAndre Jordan fiasco yesterday, it’s important to present this caveat, as all deals mentioned in this article are no more than verbal agreements at this time.

We live in a world where Steve Nash’s trophy case has as many MVP awards as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant combined. Don’t get me wrong, Nash is a surefire Hall of Famer, but no GM in their right mind would choose to start their franchise with him over Kobe, let alone Shaq. Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, who share 16 NBA Championships between them only combine for four NBA Coach of the Year awards. The reason for those apparent injustices: expectations.

We expect the seven-foot- tall behemoth, gifted beyond measure athletically, to dominate the sport. Same goes for the geniuses who have figured out the game of basketball to depths few can only imagine. The scrawny white guy who overachieves gets extra points because we can’t quite understand how he’s so good. Those coaches who drag mediocre teams to the playoffs are honored because we don’t know how they do it. In this case, it’s beneficial to be dealt the tougher hand. None of that has anything to do with how deserving the actual winner might be, only the circumstance under which the award was given.

But sure, Nash and Allen Iverson were obviously more valuable than the most dominating presence the NBA has ever seen.

Our perception of everything is skewed by expectations. We think of movies differently given what we hear about them from friends. Have you ever said something along the lines of “no, don’t tell me how good it was” to someone who just saw a movie you’re interested in? You’re managing expectations.

The same applies to the offseason facelift the Lakers just underwent. We gauge success on a curve based not only on the franchise’s history, but on tidbits we see heading into free agency. Think of it this way: Would fans have been more or less impressed with the Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass acquisitions had we not heard the Lakers had meetings with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan?

They’d be more impressed, right? That’s not even debatable.

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The moratorium has been lifted and free agents are able to sign the contracts they verbally agreed to during the dead period of July 1st through the 8th. If you’re logged onto twitter, expect to see a lot of team accounts posting pictures of players putting pen to paper, making the deals official. We’ve already seen some of that with Anthony Davis’ extension, Ed Davis going to Portland, and DeAndre Jordan going back to the Clippers.

Speaking of Jordan, his drama filled situation kept everyone plugged into the final hours of the moratorium in a way not quite ever seen and sets us up perfectly for our fast break thoughts. Let’s get to it…

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Just when all the Lakers’ free agent chips were down, they managed to get back in the game with their trade for Roy Hibbert. Considering the Lakers’ roster needs, their approach in free agency, and the fallout from missing out on all their top targets, acquiring Hibbert in the manner and at the juncture they did comes as more than just a bit of a relief.

The optics of the move aside, though, the true analysis of this deal comes on what Hibbert brings to the court, not as a reprieve from the early free agency fallout. And when it comes to fit, Hibbert seems to be a mixed bag, providing some things the team certainly needs while grating against some of what they hope to be.

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Anthony Irwin is a lifelong Lakers and, by extension, NBA fan. The league is in a great place and he joins Forum Blue & Gold as the Lakers seem to be turning things around. In his inaugural post here at FB&G, he looks at the team’s young core and the pressure they face to be impact players right away. You can follow Anthony on twitter @AnthonyIrwinNBA.

Think back on NBA history. Try to remember rookies who stepped in and immediately altered their franchise’s outlook.

Prospects who had early success like James Worthy, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant joined at least borderline title teams. Tim Duncan may have to a certain extent, though he did so mostly because of some pretty ridiculous luck. Some might mention Michael Jordan, though he didn’t reach the second round of the playoffs until his fourth year, enduring two sweeps along the way. Even LeBron James failed to make the playoffs in his first two seasons and was eliminated early in his third trip to the postseason before finally famously taking the world by storm in his fourth.

The lesson: entrusting the entire organization’s outlook to a rookie without much help from elsewhere on the roster isn’t ideal and rarely works out for either side.

Next season, the Lakers’ young core of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle look forward to something no Lakers rookie has ever gone through before: the pressure of immediately altering the course of an entire organization. Will the pressure make diamonds, or crush an exciting group of kids under it completely? The Lakers desperately hope for the former as all season, you can imagine potential free agents will be watching from afar.

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