It is one of the more fun times of the year as much of the NBA world descends upon Las Vegas for Summer League action. More than two-thirds of NBA teams take part in the Las Vegas Summer League and this year, the Los Angeles Lakers are favored to take home the title.
Things get started for the Lakers later today when they face the Los Angeles Clippers. They follow up on Saturday against the Boston Celtics before facing the Sacramento Kings on Monday. After that, the teams are seeded for the Summer League playoffs.
The Lakers roster is pretty stacked with three players from last year’s roster and four rookies on the team, not to mention the reigning G-League MVP. All eyes will be on Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, but there is plenty to watch for on this entire roster.
In general, Summer League teams are built with three groups of players: Regular season roster players, first-year rookies, and training camp hopefuls. This year the Lakers have players to watch in all three groups so lets take a look at what to watch closely for.
Regular Season Roster Players
The Lakers have three players in this group in Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac, and David Nwaba. Each will be looking to show something completely different.
Ingram will undoubtedly be looking to show off his jump shot that he has tweaked and worked on. It was a major negative for him throughout last season despite the growth he showed in other facets and having that in order will make him basically unstoppable in the Summer League setting.
And that is also something to be expected from Ingram this year. There should be very few people who can hang with Ingram in Summer League and it should show from Day 1. Last summer it was D’Angelo Russell who looked at a different level from everyone else, this year it’s Ingram’s turn.
Zubac’s offensive skills are pretty apparent to anyone who watched him last season, so his defense should be the focus this summer. Zubac must show that not only he can protect the rim, but also do a decent job of containing guards on the perimeter which is a necessity for bigs these days.
A double-double average should be easily obtainable for Zubac and if he busts out a skyhook or two it’s even better.
Nwaba has a major opportunity this summer to gain a foothold as the potential starting shooting guard for the Lakers once the regular season hits. His defense is expected and he will likely be the primary stopper, but he has to show that he can stretch the floor by hitting threes at a decent rate.
If Nwaba can become a reliable shooter, especially from the corners, he could show the coaching staff that he is ready for a much bigger role.
Before I even start on the rookies, let me say this: DO NOT OVERREACT TO A ROOKIE’S PERFORMANCE IN SUMMER LEAGUE!!!! That is all.
Of course with Lonzo Ball it’s pretty difficult to keep things reasonable considering all the pressure put on him thanks to the words of his father LaVar, as well as Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
Nonetheless, the obvious thing to look for Ball is how he elevates his teammates. Summer League can be difficult for players like Ball, whose biggest strength is passing, because of the lack of chemistry on these teams. Players may not be used to expecting what Lonzo brings so if he can overcome that and still shine, it will be a great sign.
Additionally, two concerns with Ball coming in were his midrange game and his defense. If he can show the makings of a pull-up game or a floater and be able to keep his man in front of him on defense, the Lakers should be satisfied.
The Lakers have spoken highly about Kyle Kuzma’s versatility and high IQ so that will need to be on full display. The thought is that Kuzma is a ‘stretch-4’ so he will definitely need to show his range. Additionally being able to play, and defend, multiple positions will need to be on display in Vegas.
Much like Nwaba, Josh Hart has a very good opportunity to show he is capable of being the starting shooting guard once the regular season rolls around. Stretching the floor and making plays on defense is to be expected, but Hart must also show he can make a difference in other ways. Showing the ability to create off the dribble for himself and others would really make him stand out.
At the introductory press conference, Magic said that Thomas Bryant was more of a developmental player, so the expectations on him are a little lower. For Bryant, just showing flashes of his ability to score both inside and out, and protect the rim will be enough.
Training Camp Hopefuls
People have been calling for Vander Blue to get a real shot in the NBA for some time now and he’ll get a chance to show why here. Everyone knows he can score the ball, but he will need to show more than that in Vegas. Whether it be creating for others or locking down on defense, Blue must show that he is more than just a gunner.
The opposite is true of undrafted rookie free agent P.J. Dozier. With excellent physical tools and athleticism Dozier is capable of guarding multiple positions, but lacks skill on the offensive end. If he can show off an improved jumper, the ability to create or any semblance of offensive skill he could earn himself a training camp invite, or even a two-way contract.
Travis Wear, Alec Brown, Gabe York, Alex Caruso, and Matt Thomas round out the roster and their goal should be simple. The Lakers are looking for players who can defend, stretch the floor from deep, and play multiple positions. Fitting that mold is their best chance to make an impact.