Summer League Recap: Impressions and Predictions

April 17, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Darius Morris (1) misses scoring a basket against the defense of San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

For most of this year's summer league, the Lakers' squad appeared to be a disorganized mess outmatched by other teams in terms of sheer talent, and we were ultimately left wondering as to whether any of the Lakers' second round projects would be able to contribute in a meaningful way next season. For five years, the Lakers have passed on utilizing the first round of the draft and with only one player on the entire roster selected in the first thirty picks (Christian Eyenga), the Lakers understandably faced a stiff level of competition, something that was especially the case without Devin Ebanks, arguably the best young player on the roster, and 1-4 record was not entirely unsurprising. The team's faults were fully exposed against a Miami team that used excellent execution to run circles around the inexperienced Lakers, and at that point, it was fair to ask whether one could accurately gauge the current level of an Andrew Goudelock or a Darius Morris in such a setting.

Such fears were largely put to rest as the Lakers recovered from their fiasco against Miami in a sterling fashion: they played much better against San Antonio and finally looked like a real team against the Clippers by running their offense with purpose and decisiveness. Finally, while five games is not a large sample size and there is a long time between now and training camp, we acquired a picture, however fleeting, of where the Lakers' prospects are right now as players. As such, we can attempt to pinpoint how the Lakers' youngsters fit into the senior squad, how development of certain players -- and lack thereof -- will impact their roles, and whether some of the players not likely in the Lakers' long-term plans helped their professional careers in Las Vegas.

  • Darius Morris -- We said in the summer league preview that this was essentially Morris' opportunity to prove that he could be a viable NBA backup, and while this claim appeared to be on a highly shaky foundation during the first few games, Morris increasingly displayed the potential that the Lakers valued enough not to select another point guard in the draft such as Iona's Scott Machado. Much of this was in his physical development, as an article yesterday by ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin revealed that Morris had bulked up to 217 pounds, a figure that would make him more comparable to Sacramento's Tyreke Evans than the average point guard. Morris showed the advantage of such a frame by continuously bullying his way to the rim and abusing smaller guards on drives. This, moreover, did not impact his point guard chops, as while his tendency to dribble too much was still a problem, it grew more muted every game, and against the Clippers, he was crisp enough to cause both Adam Morrison and Eric Bledsoe to lose their footing with a nice set of crossovers. Morris' court vision also began manifesting itself more as he grew more comfortable in his role as the lead guard, culminating in his nine dimes against the Clippers, a figure that could have been greater if his targets cared to finish at the rim better. Like most young point guards, Morris looked better when he could push the ball in transition and benefit from having options in the open court, and his speed and athleticism were on full display when he grabbed rebounds and went coast to coast with the ball. His halfcourt game could still use some refinement and his jumper will continue to be a worry -- although he was generally fairly solid when he could set his feet and shoot, something that will be far more available with the senior squad -- but his perfect performance from the field against San Antonio and general confidence in his outside shot alleviates some of those concerns. Altogether, Morris presented a decent case for why he should be considered for the backup point guard spot instead of Steve Blake, and this definitely will be an item of discussion come training camp.
  • Christian Eyenga -- Although the results were uneven, Eyenga made significant progress in showing the fruits of his constant summer work on his game, as he broke out a post game, a three-point shot, and the hope that he could potentially be a very good defensive player. The latter item is particularly important since it would all but solidify a rotation spot for himself if his offensive game is decent enough to prevent him from being a liability on that end. Against the Clippers, this was definitely the case, as Eyenga thundered home dunks on cuts and in transition, as well as nailing threes off the catch and on dribble handoffs. The aforementioned post game is also an interesting addition to his repertoire, as he certainly has the hops to take advantage of smaller wings deep in the post, and it only adds to his versatility around the basket. While Eyenga is still weak at creating off the dribble for himself and his handle is very shaky, these skills would be largely superfluous with the senior squad, as he could operate off the ball as a cutter and a shooter. Simply, for a guy who came into the summer with very low expectations and had to overcome the belief that he was more an athlete than a basketball player, Eyenga has done good work. As a result, while it is dangerous to take too much away from his performance against the Clippers, his rate of improvement this summer does lend itself to the thought that he may look quite polished in October.
  • Robert Sacre -- If there was any player who desired to be with the senior squad in Las Vegas, it must have been Sacre, who rarely received the ball despite being constantly open on the pick-and-roll, in the post after sealing his man, and elsewhere. He definitely confirmed the scouting report that his basketball IQ is solid, and those types of players invariably look better with better teammates around them. For his part, Sacre demonstrated that he does indeed have a jumper out to 20 feet, something that he rarely used at Gonzaga but was inferred from his stellar free throw percentages, and Marcin Gortat comparison appears fairly correct at this juncture. In the post, Sacre did have a soft touch on his hook shots, but his movements were somewhat mechanical, and he could benefit from some greater polish in this area. On the defensive end, Sacre was as advertised: he hedged well against the pick-and-roll, generally knew where he had to be in help situations, and used his length effectively in straight-up post defense. His lack of hops will always cap his ceiling in this area, but smart defenders with his length will always have a place in the league. With Mike Brown and Jim Buss both singing his praises throughout the week, Sacre appears to have a good chance to make the roster as the fifth big in the rotation.
  • Andrew Goudelock -- Even before the start of summer league, Goudelock's position on the team appeared somewhat precarious given the glut of players at his eventual natural position of point guard, and his play the past five games has only added weight to this notion. It was not necessarily his poor shooting percentages either, as that was a issue for the team as a whole, but his willingness to throw up shots outside the offense and during inopportune moments. He also failed for the most part to demonstrate that he could create for his teammates, or that he had sufficient court vision to be anything more than a triangle point guard, something that his profile increasingly resembles. During drives, he would frequently put his head down and try to get close enough to the rim to release his floater, which was far less effective than the highly accurate one he had last season. Goudelock's defense, moreover, continues to be mediocre and he definitely does not match up well with wings. As with Sacre, Goudelock likely would benefit tremendously from simply having better players around him and a reduced role, but the bar has been raised for a rotation spot next year in the backcourt, and Goudelock increasing looks like he is on the outside looking in.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom -- One of the most significant reasons Goudelock's position is endangered is DJO, who basically did everything his profile said he could save shooting well from range and it is fairly safe to say that this is an aberration given his college numbers. With the senior squad, DJO will have the benefit of far more open looks with which to utilize his catch-and-shoot game. Otherwise, DJO did follow through on his claims after the draft that he is an underrated pick-and-roll operator, as he demonstrated good explosion coming off the pick, and made good reads on his passes. On the defensive end, however, is where DJO showed his worth, as his tough, physical brand of defense won him plaudits all week long from Mike Brown and Jim Buss. Chuck Person matched him up on everyone from point guards to small forwards and he largely held his own, as his wingspan and lateral quickness more than compensated for his short stature. As with Eyenga, DJO's upside in this department is his strongest case for a roster spot, and in general, his athleticism is something that the team deeply needs. While it is very likely that the backup two spot behind Kobe is filled by Ebanks, a free agent signing, or someone else, DJO at least appears as if he has a fair shot at a roster spot on the parent team.
  • Ater Majok -- Majok is all about potential, and one certainly could see the attraction of what a player with a huge 7'7'' wingspan and solid lateral quickness could accomplish on defense. He hedged decently on pick-and-rolls and has good mobility in help defense, but he is still, as expected, very raw in this area and everywhere else for that matter. He has basically no range on offense and even had difficulty finishing around the rim, something surprising for a player with his length. There is some semblance of a post game, but he was never able to string together a coherent set of moves without committing an offensive foul or traveling. Majok essentially needs to develop every part of his game, and at age 25, it appears that he is out of time if he wants a spot in the league, let alone on the Lakers.
  • Chinemelu Elonu -- If anything, Elonu put forth the effort during his time in summer league and had no hesitation about throwing his weight around, earning the unfortunate distinction of being one of the few players who actually fouled out of a game this past week. Still, he attacked the boards aggressively and was active on the interior; he has a NBA body and did a fair job of holding his own in the paint against other post players. On offense, he did flash a nice jumper out to 15 feet and was one of the team's best offensive rebounders, but didn't overly impact the game on that end either. He certainly is much closer to getting a NBA roster spot than Majok is, but that is not saying much. If he does receive an invite to training camp, it likely will be solely as an extra body for the bigs ahead of him to play against.
  • Reeves Nelson -- Before summer league started, Dex described Nelson as being very similar to Matt Barnes, another player who practiced his craft at UCLA, and in the last two games, that comparison has been, to put it mildly, highly apt. Nelson's game looks practically indistinguishable from Barnes', as he relentlessly attacked the glass on both ends, cut decisively to the rim, and did all the little things we commonly assign to "energy players." He did his part on defense as well, and while he could do better at fighting through screens -- although what rookie doesn't? -- he did good work on that end as well. If he can develop a jumper, it is easy to see how Nelson could end up on a NBA team somewhere, even if that squad is likely not the Lakers because of the presence of Christian Eyenga and Devin Ebanks. He would be an especially good fit in an uptempo system that allows him to attack the rim and masquerade as a smallball four, just as Barnes did in Golden State and Phoenix. Finally, for all the concerns about his maturity and attitude, Nelson was a model citizen during his stay in Vegas according to Chuck Person, and he definitely put forth the effort on the court.
  • Julian Khazzouh -- Khazzouh deserves some especial mention here instead of being grouped with the remainder of the roster for his solid outing in the final game against the Clippers, during which he displayed the skill that might earn him a roster spot somewhere: shooting. Time and time again off penetration, Khazzouh received the ball and immediately shot off the catch with a sweet looking stroke that resulted in him nailing four of the five threes he attempted yesterday. He is mediocre at best on defense, but as seen with Rashard Lewis, who had an utterly awful year with Washington but was still in high demand during the offseason, stretch fours and fives have a lot of value in the league. Once Morris was able to consistently get his dribble penetration game moving, Khazzouh got the easy looks he needs to thrive, and you have to imagine that such a thing is in need somewhere in the league.
  • Toure Murry, Lawrence Hill, Greg Somogyi, Gary Flowers, Kevin Palmer, Eric Griffin, Garrett Green -- And this is your list of players who either barely played last week or clearly demonstrated that their ambitions were limited to attracting an overseas team at most. Murry, who inexplicably started two games, did a poor job managing the offense, although to be fair, it was a herculean task to ask from a rookie. Hill showed little of the long-range stroke that he had in the D-League and otherwise didn't have the hops to be effective on either end. Somogyi drew some stares for being a massive 7'3'' and he did hit a few midrange shots to display some range, but his post game was highly undeveloped and his lumbering gait on defense is not an endearing trait in an increasingly smallball and speed-based league. Lastly, Griffin and Garrett each saw barely a minute of playing time, and Flowers and Palmers did not play at all.
So, as expected with a team with so many draft picks possibly vying for roster spots, summer league did a fair job in determining who the odd man out was, and for the moment, it emphatically appears to be Goudelock. There definitely is a lot that can change between now and training camp, but his current prognosis appears to be quite poor, especially if Morris, Eyenga, and DJO all continue down their expected paths of development. How free agency or a possible Dwight Howard deal ultimately resolves for the Lakers -- obtaining Jodie Meeks or Jason Richardson, for instance, would put quite a damper on Goudelock's chances of making the roster -- will play a big role in determining this, but as it stands for training camp, Goudelock has a steep hill to climb. Besides this, summer league play has indicated that there is a fair chance that a few of Mitch Kupchak's draft picks (Morris, Sacre) and trade acquisitions (Eyenga) will crack the rotation, which is another feather to hang in his hat during what has been a very exciting offseason for Lakers fans.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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