The Lakers finished up their first three games of the Las Vegas Summer League on Monday with a 1-2 record and amidst the many storylines, the main conversation has surrounded the play of second overall pick D’Angelo Russell. Russell’s numbers have not been anything to rave about nor have we seen much of what was highlighted prior to the draft. His apparent slow start has gotten Lakers fans antsy, but a piece by Nate Parham for Warriors blog Golden State of Mind can calm the minds of Laker faithful as he chronicles how Russell’s natural gifts and unbelievable poise flashed glimpses of potential greatness. Here’s a brief look:
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the L.A. Lakers saved my first day at Las Vegas Summer League yesterday.
Sometime in the first half of the Lakers’ game against the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday, D’Angelo Russell calmly weaved his way down the floor in transition, head on a swivel to see what was developing. As Tarik Black darted through the key, Russell flung a beautifully-placed no-look pass to him that ended up sailing out of bounds. And there’s no contradiction in saying that pass was perfectly placed despite being a turnover — after being confused into a spin trying to catch the pass, Black turned around acknowledged his fault in the turnover and gave the 19-year-old phenom an apologetic high five.
Even in a botched play, Russell is consistently five steps ahead of the other nine aspiring pro ball players on the floor — on that play, he slowed down, saw Black coming, took a casual probing dribble in the opposite direction Black was going to draw the defense, and waited for the defense to leave the opening to fire the pass into. Despite the outcome his potential was on full display and everyone, including his teammates who are fighting for their own basketball lives, are acknowledging it in various ways. He’s doing things that show a potential mastery of the nuances of the game that often eludes the other hopefuls in Vegas.
For more on Russell, Drew Garrison of Silver Screen & Roll talked about the adjustment the rookie is facing as he steps into this new environment:
The overarching theme of Russell’s introduction to the NBA is adjustment. He’s learning a system that pulls him away from handling the ball. He’s figuring out the kinds of angles that will be available to him. He’s playing against a level of competition that’s challenging him every minute he’s on the floor, as opposed to stomping on lesser-talented college athletes who’ll never step foot on an NBA court. A player destined to conduct offenses as beautiful as Tchaikovsky symphonies doesn’t just wave a magical baton. Everything falls apart when the orchestra’s timing is off. “If you run a set and it breaks down, it’s a quick turnaround. Five seconds and you need to get a shot off,” D’Angelo elaborated when discussing the difficulties of running an offense the team is unfamiliar with that also eats up the shot cock.
Yes, it’s going to take time and patience to watch his talent fully blossom, but the kind of ceiling he has should make it well worth the wait. “Summer League is great for the adjustment process. I feel like I’m going to get better every game, every practice,” D’Angelo said when asked about his progress. “Once I get under the system and get the hang of it a little better, I think the better I’ll possibly be.”
In the interest of the Lakers backcourt, second-year man Jordan Clarkson has shined in his Summer League showing thus far and has displayed noticeable progression in nearly every aspect of his game. It has been well-documented that the 23-year old Clarkson was a pleasant surprise for the Lakers in his All-Rookie season, but he unveiled the overall experience in a piece for the Players’ Tribune, entitled “My Rookie Year”.
Among the tidbits in the article, one of the most telling stories was one that portrayed the bond the team shared last season despite their struggles, here’s a brief excerpt:
Aside from the rookie duties, another huge aspect was developing friendships with team veterans. Despite having such an off year for Laker Nation, our unit was still pretty close. Nick Young and Carlos Boozer took me under their wings on the road. There were no internal conflicts that you hear about on some teams when they go through tough times.
The bond wasn’t always about basketball. It was more about us being a family off the court. Sometimes you’ll hear about rookies feeling isolated — you go into your hotel room, order room service and you’re solo. My experience was the complete opposite. Carlos would be like, “Yo, JC, we’re going out to eat. Be downstairs at 7:30.” It wasn’t an invitation, but more like an order. Nick is a big shopper, so he would always let me know when they’d go to the mall. They always kept me in the loop, and that made me feel included as the newest player.
If you’re interested in reading more about Clarkson’s growth as a player, our own Darius Soriano looked at the tall task ahead of him this upcoming season as he looks to transition into a new role as a combo-guard. Give it a read.
Larry Nance Jr. is seemingly full of surprises. After being somewhat of a shocker as the Lakers’ 27th overall pick, Nance has taken many aback with his efforts on the court throughout summer League. No, it isn’t pretty, but his never-ending motor, relentless hustle and apparent pride in doing the ‘dirty work” lend one to believe the chants of “Lar-ry!” that bellowed out from the Laker-centric crowd at Thomas & Mack will not have any trouble sticking.
Nance’s Summer League showing prompted me to do some research on his background — I had a vague recollection that he had endured a few hardships throughout his life but was unclear of how extensive they were. Lo and behold I came across this feature article from January by Eric Prisbell of USA Today Sports in which he details the diagnosis that changed Nance’s career (For those who are unaware, Nance suffers from a chronic ailment known as Crohn’s Disease). Here is a snippet of the read:
Watch Larry Nance Jr. amble around the basketball court and it looks as if success was preordained.
The Wyoming senior not only possesses strong bloodlines but also shares the name of his father, Larry Nance Sr., the former 13-year-NBA veteran who dazzled fans with almost freakish athletic ability. The 6-foot-8 Nance Jr. displays that attribute as well as a striking number of his dad’s on-court mannerisms.
But what few outside this high-elevation campus know is that the preseason Mountain West Conference player of the year can compete at the college level only because of a medical diagnosis during his sophomore year of high school that changed his life.
Perhaps the most polarizing player of the Lakers Sumer League squad is ex-Washington center Robert Upshaw. Upshaw’s history that led to his dismissal from two college programs have been well-chronicled, but the time between his last dismissal in January to his new agreement with the Lakers, not so much. So with that, here is a link to a radio interview Upshaw did earlier this month with a local Seattle station, just after agreeing to join the Lakers Summer League team.
In the interview, Upshaw discusses, in detail, the process of trying to overcome the issues he’s faced, his relationship with Bill Walton, and his excitement to prove himself while with the Lakers. If you’re looking to know a bit more about Upshaw as a person, I suggest you give it a listen.
Lastly, we would be remiss to do a links post for this past week without providing some reference into the series of events that played out with the team that sits just across the hall of the Lakers’ locker room. By now, the DeAndre Jordan saga has been chronicled and spun in most every way possible, but if you’re looking for the most detailed insight in regards to what exactly happened that led to his change of heart, you should check out this piece by ESPN’s Tim McMahonn and Ramona Shelburne.
However, in the aftermath of Jordan’s (in)decision, the more pressing issue is its affect on the Mavericks and their fan base. In a well-written piece for The Sports Academy, Mavs blogger Andy Tobo offers his perspective on the Jordan debacle and explores a larger issue of why the Maverick’s “plan powder” of preserving cap space in the hopes of selling the next big name free agent is, well, foolish:
Or maybe… the fatal flaws of the damn thing was always there for anyone who wanted to see them. Here’s the breakdown:
- “Plan powder” comes from the phrase “keep your powder dry.” In this case it means “have as much cap space as possible at all times.”
- The way to get cap space that involves just HAVING money on hand means a lot of one year rentals, few impact players, no continuity, and ultimately mediocrity.
- No top free agent wants to play for a mediocre team.
- Every top free agent gets the same offer, dollar figure wise, from every team that’s interested in them.
You follow? What the Mavs did was basically to say “we’re going to follow a strategy that makes us mediocre for the sake of having money until we score big, even though scoring big is based on what you can offer to free agents besides money.”
Sound familiar? Very much so. While the situations of the Mavs and Lakers are certainly not identical, there is a sliver of similarity on the surface: a formerly competitive team now failing to contend in the waning years of their aging star, a franchise whose height of success was quickly followed by numerous years of disappointment, management that is constantly preserving space while overlooking the need to build roster continuity, and despite all of this a front office that has continuous belief in their ability to lure a big-time free agent every summer.
Again, there are many presiding factors beneath the surface that separate these two scenarios. But the Mavs, much like the Lakers, underwent somewhat of a philosophy check over the summer. How quickly both teams recover remains to be seen, but in light of the Summer League showing and the solid signings post-LaMarcus, it can be said that the Lakers hold the keys to a brighter future.