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:
Lakers fans are not exactly renowned for their patience.
Nowhere was that more in evidence than Monday night at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, when after an ugly first quarter — 5 points on 2-of-17 shooting, with seven turnovers — Lakers fans that filled the Thomas & Mack booed their young players.
That may have been the lowlight, but the Lakers’ young stars have had their struggles in Sin City. Through two games Julius Randle is shooting 29.4 percent, and has averaged just 3.5 rebounds a game in 20 minutes a night. D’Angelo Russell is averaging 10 points a night on 33 percent shooting through three games, but the bigger issue he has two turnovers for each assist he has dished out. Jordan Clarkson has looked like a guy who has been through an NBA season and scored 18.3 points a game, but he’s shooting just 40.4 percent overall and 26.7 percent from three. Clarkson and Russell have some work to do on their chemistry.
All these struggles should serve as a reminder to the Lakers organization and their fans:
Rebuilding is a long process. Patience is required.
A similar sentiment of patience was expressed by Zach Harper of CBS Sports as he contextualized the struggles of young players in a Summer League setting and concluded why such performances are completely “OK”:
None of this is the end of the world. Plenty of talented young players, who ended up becoming All-Star or Rookie of the Year winners, struggled in their summer league moments.
When Derrick Rose played just two games in Orlando summer league, he scored 19 total points on 17 total shots, and had eight turnovers to almost neutralize his 11 assists. Michael Carter-Williams shot 27.1 percent from the field and needed 17 shots a game to average 13 points. DeMarcus Cousins put up 14.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, but shot 33.3 percent from the field. Even Stephen Curry shot 32.5 percent from the field and needed 16 shots per game to put up 17.4 points.
Russell and Randle may end up having a great end to the summer, and carry it over into big rookie years for each player (Randle is no longer a rookie, but it’s basically his first year playing in the NBA). While fans and some media rush to wonder what is wrong with the young guys on the Lakers, it’s more important to realize they’re players with little-to-no experience trying to get their feet wet in the Nevada desert.
Continuing with the theme of Summer exhibition, this piece by Keith Schlosser of SB Nation’s Ridiculous Upside examines the inner workings of the NBA Summer League and more specifically, how salaries are doled out to its participants. Upon reading you’ll find that for most free agents, participation doesn’t necessarily result in a contract or monetary compensation, but the takeaway those players receive can often be quite valuable:
Multiple league and team sources have reiterated that free agent Summer League participants do not get paid. Of course, room, board, and transportation is taken care of. What’s more, athletes are also given a per diem to help mitigate food costs.
Of course, Summer League provides experience that is sometimes even more valuable than what a player stands to earn financially. They receive intimate guidance and feedback from NBA coaches and the NBPA, among other things.
One source pointed out to RidiculousUpside.com that some prospects are given partially-guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season with the thought of an “unpaid” Summer League gig in mind. Plenty of players are taken to the training camp with the team they play for during Summer League anyway. Others are simply cut before camp begins (or shortly after), but they still get to take the money along with them.
In late February, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes published an in-depth article discussing the Lakers’ usage (or lack thereof) of analytical data. There is no need to re-analyze that piece at this time, but for some brief background on how the teams’ analytics operation is viewed around league circles, here is a look:
If the Lakers have indeed truly embraced analytics, those around the league still have one big question: Where’s the evidence?
“It’s hard for me to believe that they’re even close to fixing things right now, not given the results but given the way they’re making decisions,” said Jeff Ma, a predictive analytics expert for ESPN who has worked as an analytics consultant for several NBA teams.
“There is no evidence that I’m aware of that suggests progressive thought, finding innovative ways to improve or progress the team — either in team construction/composition, or on-court play,” said one NBA analytics official. “If anything, their on-court play is actively counter to more widely accepted analytic insights: in the absence of specific personnel pointing you in another direction, increase pace, attack the paint in transition, shoot more 3s, protect the paint and deny the corners on defense.”
Couple this piece with the reports that LaMarcus Aldridge reportedly felt “underwhelmed” by the Lakers’ basketball presentation over the summer and many continue to assert that the Lakers’ Advanced Analytics team simply isn’t quite, well, advanced. Nevertheless, team officials have made multiple efforts to prove that their data department is on par with the rest of the league and according to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register, the Lakers are now plotting a move to “beef up” their analytics department:
Assistant coach and advance scout Clay Moser is expected to transition from the bench to the front office in a sort of liaison position, which previously did not exist within the organization. A team spokesman confirmed Monday that the move is in the works.
The responsibilities of the role have been among those heaped upon assistant coach Mark Madsen. The plan with Moser, however, is to facilitate a pipeline of ideas with a basketball person in the front office.
Moser has been with the Lakers since 2011, when Mike Brown hired him as an advance scout. Before that, he was an assistant coach for the D-Fenders and Reno Bighorns of the Development League, as well as an advance scout for Cleveland, Orlando, Sacramento and Golden State.
What this means going forward for the Lakers is quite intriguing — Perhaps this move is the start of a series of steps taken to strengthen their analytics operation altogether. If so, Oram suggests the team’s efforts could be met with some in-house opposition:
Coach Byron Scott has been especially resistant to analytics.
Madsen provided Scott with a weekly breakdown of advanced statistics, but in the middle of last season Scott said those numbers had never influenced a basketball decision.
He said he listens to the information when its brought to him, but that he is “still just old school.”
The disconnect became apparent in February when Mitch Kupchak told KSPN/710 that analytics are “of most use to a coaching staff.” Scott, however, said he had no use for them.
“I think we’ve got a few guys who believe in them,” he said. “I’m not one of them.”
It will be interesting to see if the traditionally steadfast Scott comes around on this matter, but it is nonetheless encouraging that the team is making moves to adapt to the more statistically-oriented NBA.
Lastly, and tying into the discussion on analytics, the Roy Hibbert acquisition has been met with almost universal praise, even if only for the reprieve it offered from the team’s free agent failures. But Hibbert should fit well on the court, at least on the defensive side of the ball. We covered some of this ground here at FB&G, but at Grantland, Kirk Goldsberry also dove into the numbers and thinks Hibbert and the Lakers could be just what each other need:
By any measure, the Lakers were a defensive tire fire last season, especially in the paint. Their opponents scored 18.9 field goals per game within 5 feet of the basket, third most in the league. The Pacers allowed only 14.8 field goals per game inside of 5 feet, second fewest in the league.
For years now, Hibbert has been one of the league’s most effective “volume rim protectors.” Out of 40 NBA players who defended at least seven shots per game at the rim last season, Hibbert ranked fourth in opponent field goal percentage (42.6 percent) in those situations. Only Rudy Gobert, Serge Ibaka, and Andrew Bogut were more obstructive.
That’s a crucial upgrade for the Lakers, who largely relied on Jordan Hill for rim protection last season. Hill ranked 38th in this group while allowing opponents to convert 55.4 percent of those shots.
We will see if these skills transfer from Indiana to Los Angeles, but the possibility may help both the Lakers and Hibbert regain some success.