We entered summer league a little over a week ago with seemingly firm ideas of who was going to be able to make the roster and the manner in which they would be able to contribute. After five games of surprisingly fun and enjoyable play from a group of journeymen and undrafted free agents that for the most part embraced a team identity and principles on both ends rather than their own individual stats, a bête noire of most summer league squads, most of those said ideas have been thoroughly discredited, largely in a positive manner. The coaching staff clearly came into summer league with a clear idea of what kind of player they wanted and what context they needed to succeed in, so a good deal of credit goes to Dan D'Antoni and the rest for managing to sell this team on being part of the system instead of trying to subsume it within their own individual game.
In so doing, the Lakers, aided by an injury to Ryan Kelly that opened the door for a number of guys to make their mark at both forward spots, may have found a number of interesting contributors that were not immediately apparent to most when the original roster was announced. For instance, if summer league was reduced to a show of Chris Douglas-Roberts' overall prowess, as many expected it to be, it would have been much harder to pick out that Marcus Landry is a superb fit for Mike D'Antoni's system as a player who can slip between both forward spots on both ends, or that Robert Sacre has made surprising jumps in his game that might earn him rotation minutes at some point in a Laker uniform. This would not have been possible without the egalitarian ball movement that was the norm for the Lakers in Vegas, and as Landry and CDR confided to our very own Drew Garrison, it gave everyone space to show their game in an unexpected light.
As such, we now have three and even four possible candidates to come to training camp instead of the practically guaranteed walk-in that was expected for just CDR and perhaps one another player, a situation that benefits the team as a whole. The issue is now seeing where those players can fit on the final roster, as the current roster count along with Ryan Kelly is expected to be at twelve, meaning only two spots are probably available to any of the training camp hopefuls. If the Lakers consummate their interest in a veteran free agent such as Lamar Odom, this would become even more difficult for them. Observe:
|PG||Steve Nash||Steve Blake||Jordan Farmar|
|SG||Kobe Bryant||Jodie Meeks||---|
|SF||Nick Young||Wesley Johnson||---|
|PF||Jordan Hill||Ryan Kelly||---|
|C||Pau Gasol||Chris Kaman||Robert Sacre|
From this, we can reasonably assume that no one who profiles primarily as a point guard or center has much of a shot of cracking the final roster, but the instability on the wings due to Kobe's absence and Wesley Johnson needing to reverse the perception that he's a giant bust does create a big opening. To a lesser extent, Kelly's spot is not secure either, but his solid fit in Mike D'Antoni's system and the wastefulness of sending him away after just picking him makes it highly improbable that he doesn't make the final roster. That being said, someone who can play both the three and the four and provide depth in both areas would also have a leg up in terms of making the final roster.
As a final note on training camp invites, remember that a player who is cut from the roster would have priority for the Lakers' D-League squad to pick up should that player be interested in doing so. The Lakers haven't made extensive use of their D-League squad as a developmental tool or a feeder of potential rotation pieces, arguably to their detriment, but the number of interesting contributors available from the summer league roster for an invite would make this an appealing option if things could be worked out between the team and the individual players. After all, we repeatably state that practically the entire roster will be wiped clean in 2014 and there will be a need to fill it with possible rotation pieces. Having some available on short notice would provide a great boon in a situation in which the Lakers will focus most of their energies on obtaining the top available talent that offseason.
With that all said, let us review how all of the summer league players did in their five games in a holistic manner, examine their possible fit on the team, and their chances for making the roster:
The most impressive player to emerge from the Lakers' summer league team, Landry fills the Lakers' current needs so seamlessly it is difficult to imagine him not getting a spot on the roster come training camp. As mentioned, Kelly's absence opened the way for a number of players to man both forward spots and Landry proved especially able at doing so. Whether it was checking wings or defending in the post on defense, Landry was able to switch between both roles and stay very effective, a valuable skill in a league in which what kind of player might be manning the three or the four changes wildly depending on the team. Not a lot of players can move out to the perimeter and defend wings and also give up inches to the likes of John Henson in the post and still manage to bother him on offense, but Landry managed to do so quite well.
On offense, we expected Landry's primary contributions to come from his shooting, but it was more his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim that impressed as summer league went on. Landry is not a one-trick pony on this end and he got quite a few points every game by either driving from the arc after his defender flew by on a close out or by getting out on the break. Of course, he is certainly no slouch in his specialty, able to be a factor in the pick-and-pop by slipping out behind the line after setting the screen and in general, finding open spaces on the court to get available shots, something Mike D'Antoni will no doubt appreciate. On the whole, Landry shouldered most of the offensive load for the team and still emerged with a very respectable 57.4 TS%, showing how well he worked behind the arc and at getting to the rim each game.
For the Lakers, Landry assuages two needs between Johnson's inconsistency and Kelly's uncertain status due to his injury and being a recent draft pick and as he repeatably stated throughout summer league, his game is a great fit for what D'Antoni needs out of his forwards on the floor. Needless to say, it would be very surprising if anything happened between now and final cuts to change this calculus and Landry's likely future in the purple and gold.
Summer league wasn't exactly a disaster for CDR, who very well may get a training camp invite, make the team, and make this episode look like a distant memory in October, but what once seemed like a certainty as far as his place on the team has slipped quite a bit in the space of a week. To be sure, the approach adopted by the coaching staff on offense of focusing on sharing the ball and CDR personally trying to be more of a playmaker rather than a scorer played a role, but that doesn't account for the remarkable stretches of passivity we saw from CDR for most of the week. Even if one notes that he won't be actively creating for himself all that much for the parent team given the presence of Kobe, Pau, and Nash, it is a part of his game that he will have to showcase to gain any headway in becoming part of the rotation.
This noted, the good moments from CDR were quite impressive and they mostly had to do with that aforementioned playmaking ability. Not a lot of players can round the screen on the pick-and-roll and make a pass with one hand to a big waiting on the baseline, straddle the baseline waiting for an opening to pass the ball to an open shooter, or complete a bounce pass in transition through defenders to a teammate who has ran up the floor, and for the most part, CDR made it look pretty effortless. If that can be combined with more of an assertive offensive stance in which he looks for his own points more often, CDR might be part of the added shot in the arm of perimeter dynamism that the team has needed ever since Lamar Odom left the team. To top it off, he was one of the team's best wing defenders and was a factor in the passing lanes as well as on the ball.
The problem for CDR is that his positional versatility occupies an area that is already somewhat crowded on the Lakers' roster in that he can switch between the two and the three, as opposed to say Landry, who can play either forward spot. Before Kobe returns, this isn't that much of an issue given that there will be a lot of wing minutes up for grabs, but afterwards, someone is getting kicked out of the rotation. This could be Steve Blake due to a simple minute crunch, Wesley Johnson due to him not transcending his bust status, or any number of things, but the bottom line is that the path for CDR to contribute isn't as clear as it is for Landry, although this shouldn't deter the Lakers that much from keeping him off the final roster.
Harris is literally a consistent three-point shot away from possibly being a very useful rotation piece in the Lakers system since he checks off an awful lot of boxes for a forward in MDA's system. Even more than Landry, Harris can easily work as a smallball four, as he cleans up the defensive glass, his relentless motor gets him a lot of offensive rebounds, and he invariably finds himself open on cuts and similar a number of times each game. The Matt Barnes comparison is pretty accurate, although per the above, Harris is a more natural four and probably more athletic. In many ways, he's the prototype for the kind of player teams increasingly have manning their forward spots.
Unfortunately for Harris, he's not quite there in every aspect of his game. His ballhandling is decent, but not enough to make him a threat in all the pick-and-rolls the team tried to involve him in or help him on his drives to the rim. Nor is he good enough of a finisher around the rim to be a threat in those circumstances, as his jumper is already a problem. When it all clicks together, as it did for Harris in his last game against Golden State, the results look very good, as he was scoring from all over the court and looking like a key cog of the offense. The feeling one gets is that one more year of development would do wonders for Harris' game, and it would be excellent if he could find time with the D-Fenders next season as the Lakers keep an eye on him for the future.
If Harris wants to see what a year of development can do, moreover, he just has to look at fellow Gonzaga teammate Sacre, who looks hugely improved from last summer. The level of refinement in his game has taken a big leap on both ends to the point that one could see Sacre in an actual rotation, not a conclusion we were ready to jump to last year. This is most seen on the defensive end, as Sacre was the chief anchor of the Lakers' aggressive trapping defense, jumping out on the pick-and-roll and actually doing a solid job slowing down the ballhandler on his hedges. The Lakers forced a lot of turnovers because Sacre was ready and willing to direct the ballhandler towards the sideline and trap him in the corner, and indeed, he was actively shading towards the strong side away from his man in a lot of possessions in preparation for his help responsibilities.
His development on defense wasn't quite matched by his offensive game, however. Sacre still looks very mechanical in the post and the release on his admittedly much improved midrange shot remains rather slow. He was a factor as a roll man, catching the ball in stride and despite not having any lift to get right at the rim, leveraged his position well to get fouls at the rim. This extended to his post play, as Sacre was getting deep seals more consistently and had flashes of more fluid post play every now and then, perhaps best exemplified when he nailed a hook shot over John Henson to help seal the Lakers' victory over Milwaukee. For this year, Sacre probably has no role in the rotation given that there are three players who can man the five on the roster, but one understands why Kupchak would want to extend him for cheap into 2015.
The statistics offer the strongest case for Hudson among any of the players listed here, as his blistering 63.4 TS% attests to, but observing Hudson in a game situation reveals that he simply isn't a fit for the Lakers' roster. Mike D'Antoni needs his guards in the pick-and-roll to be capable of making consistent passes to the roll men or shooters and not only is Hudson's court vision somewhat limited, he takes a shoot first attitude to the game that would be fine for a two guard, but not someone with a point guard's body. Now, these kinds of players have proliferated throughout the league recently and Hudson will likely have quite the case to present to teams that have an opening for that kind of player, but that's not the Lakers, the fact that three players are ahead of him in the point guard rotation notwithstanding.
To his credit, Hudson had a number of good moments throughout summer league and his shot creation skills were frequently put to use by a Lakers team that didn't have a lot of traditional ballhandlers to initiate plays. One only has to look for his shooting display down the stretch of the Golden State game for this, as the Lakers cleared out for Hudson to get shots, although Kent Bazemore ultimately got the better of him. He also was a factor on defense, getting a few steals every game through sheer effort a lot of the time. All of this doesn't change the reality for Hudson that there's no real spot on the Lakers for him to aspire to at the end of the offseason.
Snaer experienced quite a fall as summer league went on, going from being one of the key parts of the offense due to his ballhandling, decent athleticism, and shot making ability to a bit player who ended up being an afterthought as part of the Lakers' dismal bench unit. Perhaps if he can been given the opportunity to show his stuff more consistently as a starter this could have been reversed, but as the play of CDR, Landry, and Harris attested to, there wasn't anyone on the wings that he was going to take minutes from. As a result, Snaer lost a lot of ground on getting a training camp invite, although as with Harris above, he might get a spot just to give the Lakers' D-League team an edge in obtaining him.
The Lakers' priorities for the summer might have also played a role in Snaer getting the short end of the stick, as the two has a lot of competition due to MDA's willingness to use both Blake and Farmar as twos depending on the lineup and Nick Young could also see time there. That three guys whose main position is probably small forward all got significant run in the starting lineup says plenty of what was the coaching staff's objective with the roster. Wasting time on a guy who didn't have much of a chance to make the roster wouldn't have been a productive use of their time.
Still, this shouldn't detract from the fact that Snaer brings an interesting mix of skills for a college senior. He can definitely be a factor in a league that has grown very dependent on pick-and-roll play, and the defensive chops he displayed in college were frequently in play, especially in drawing charges. If he can acquire a slightly higher level of refinement and work his pick-and-roll skills into a more cohesive game, as he should be a threat to drive at the rim, pull up for a jumper, or throw a pocket pass to his screen man, he could be an option for the team in the coming years.
As we move down the roster, the problem simply becomes that these guys weren't good enough to crack the hold the starters had on the minutes distribution, which really says less about how these guys played and more on how good the starters were as a unit. This was the case for Hayward, who didn't necessarily play bad insofar as he failed to beat out Landry, CDR, or Harris for minutes. As a smaller three who wasn't going to play some four, this was a further mark against him, although the coaching staff also didn't really use him in that role either. Nevertheless, it was always going to be a long shot for Hayward once the rotations became more set and this was how it ended up playing out.
As with many other players in this boat on the bench, Hayward wasn't playing badly: he was likely the best guy on the team as far as running the floor went, frequently getting easy buckets or fouls at the rim by leaking out on the break, and his energy and defense against wings was fairly respectable. Although his playmaking wasn't on point, he did demonstrate surprising competence in creating his own shot, often using a single hard dribble to get free for open jumpers inside the arc. Taking this along with his great performance for the Lakers' D-League affiliate last season, Hayward probably belongs on a team somewhere, but that likely isn't going to be with the Lakers.
The only player who started a game besides the usual five, Watt demonstrated an interesting set of skills during his limited minutes that probably deserve closer attention at a future juncture when he is more developed. More specifically, Watt was the most natural roll man on the team, catching the ball in motion without breaking stride consistently and demonstrating his solid awareness by hitting open shooters and cutters on his way to the rim. He wasn't a big offensive option beyond setting screens and the midrange and burgeoning three-point game he demonstrated in college surprisingly didn't come into play during summer league, but one can see why the coaching staff was intrigued by him to the degree that he was in front of Marcus Landry in the rotation for one game.
Showing his athleticism and fluid lateral movement on both ends as well, Watt was essentially the only real big on the team besides Sacre to acquit himself well, as the team used him at both frontcourt spots. He was perhaps shortchanged slightly by the fact that the team didn't really have a traditional distributor to get him the ball on the roll, and unlike Sacre, he wasn't going to be manufacturing his own points in the post. Although Snaer and CDR are decent playmakers for wings, they also aren't pass-first minded players, so having the likes of Hudson as Watt's pick-and-roll partner didn't make things easier for him. Nevertheless, the coaching staff gradually phased Watt out of the rotation and we can safely interpret what that means for his prospects.
This section would have been very different if Hyman didn't have his coming out party against Golden State, as he went from "athletic big guy who doesn't know how to play" to "athletic big guy who can block shots and is a developmental project." Guys with Hyman's size who can move as easily as he can aren't common to say the least and his energetic rim defense was a marked contrast against Sacre's dependence on positioning due to his physical limitations. Now, Hyman doesn't really know how to play, as his awkward fadeaway shots on offense and helping too much on defense as he tries to block every shot at the rim attest to, but this is a league starved for size and once he emerges with a useful offensive weapon and enough defensive skill to harness his athleticism, we might see him break into the league somewhere.
In terms of sheer talent, Selby blows away the rest of this page, but you wouldn't have known if from his disastrous showing in Las Vegas, as he only hit a pitiful four of his twenty-six shots and his turnovers outnumbered his assists. As was the case at Kansas, Selby doesn't really know how to harness his athleticism into a coherent game, and he's also hamstrung by a bad jumper and limited court vision. There would be moments every now and then in which Selby would turn heads by dashing into the paint and hitting an open shooter with a pinpoint pass, although they were few and far between as compared to the times in which he would dribble pointlessly on the perimeter without much idea of what to do in the offense. It is a rather shocking turnaround from last year's utter domination of this level of competition, indicating that Selby's future employment is probably not on a NBA roster anywhere in the league.
Big-time scorers at the mid-major level usually either prove that they were underrated prospects that deserved more attention or that they were feasting on lesser competition, and while it is very early for Seeley, one can't help but lean towards the latter with regards to his future prospects. He was basically invisible whenever he was on the court, never really asserting himself within the offense or doing much of note. This could be a result of him buying into the team's focus on ball movement and disdain for shameless stat gunning a little too seriously, but the overall effect was that he turned in four entirely forgettable performances. Maybe he catches fire in the D-League or Europe en route to something more in his career, although one is not filled with confidence after seeing how he did in Vegas.
The award for the absolute worst performance of summer league for the Lakers goes to Viney, who inexplicably played eleven minutes against the Bucks in which he missed both his shots, turned the ball over three times, and was bulldozed on defense by both wings and forwards. The latter item deserves particular attention since one would expect a guy who can switch between the three and the four to look good at least one of those spots while bringing some strengths at the other one, but Viney was flatly awful at both. His defining sequence will be in the Milwaukee game in which he drove towards the rim, picked up his dribble when met by a defender, and traveled when he tried to pass the ball out. Given that Viney was unable to prove himself even as a shooter, something his stats from Europe and college indicated that he could do, this combination almost assuredly leaves him firmly on the other side of the pond for the duration of his basketball career.
Again, how expectations can be wrecked in so little time: a little over a week ago, yours truly would have vouched for Williams over Sacre any day of the week due to the former's far stronger NBA history of play, but Williams' inability to get off the bench and Sacre's solid play have altered those perceptions to say the least. It isn't as if there weren't minutes available either, as the Lakers were trotting out Elias Harris at center for the stretches during which Sacre wasn't on the floor. If Williams had shown the coaching staff he could play, one has to think that he would have gotten more than bit minutes, even if one considers that his lack of a jumper and being slightly undersized at the five was held against him. This continues to be a baffling descent for a guy who was a bona fide NBA rotation big a little over a year ago and it's hard to pinpoint what exactly he's doing to have caused this.
Appearing just in the first game, Woolridge got his seven minute cameo, didn't do much of note, and was promptly benched for the rest of summer league. That was probably sufficient to give a nod to his father for his service in a Lakers uniform and that was that. Perhaps there was some glimmer of talent that one of the Lakers' scouts saw that justified his inclusion on the squad, but to say that Woolridge's basketball resume is hugely weaker than everyone else on this list would be quite the understatement. There was little reason to get him on the floor after the team paid its dues to every guy on the roster who made the cut by giving them their brief time to shine and Woolridge didn't exactly offer much reason for them to continue paying attention to him.
So, with all that in the books, we have a fairly clear picture of who has a shot at the final roster out of training camp. With apologies to Snaer and Hayward, both of whom still might get camp invites, it's a three man race between Landry, CDR, and Harris for roster spots thirteen and fourteen, and given that Harris still has some development to go, Landry and CDR are probably coming on top in that competition. That leaves us with the following depth chart:
|PG||Steve Nash||Steve Blake||Jordan Farmar|
|SG||Kobe Bryant||Jodie Meeks||Chris Douglas-Roberts|
|SF||Nick Young||Wesley Johnson||Marcus Landry|
|PF||Jordan Hill||Ryan Kelly||---|
|C||Pau Gasol||Chris Kaman||Robert Sacre
A lot of versatility, no? The Lakers would have a number of players who can man multiple positions, giving Mike D'Antoni a good deal of options to work with, as well as insurance in case the basketball gods desire to release the injury bug again, although that might be a good thing this particular year depending on your point of view. And to ward off the inevitable question, the Lakers have rarely carried fifteen players in the past just for the sake of maintaining flexibility and even if it's small money, whatever they pay the end of the bench guy gets magnified courtesy of the harsher luxury tax. If Harris, the most likely final cut, ends up in the D-League, the Lakers managed a victory in that respect regardless, the threat of him being filched by another team if he performs well for the Lakers' affiliate notwithstanding.
All in all, the number of players who received positive reviews beyond the starters despite having only one recent draft pick on the roster tells a lot of how well Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the front office set up the roster and how it was calculated to meet the team's needs. Too often in recent years has the construction of the bottom of the roster been poorly executed in lieu of making the splashy moves elsewhere, as seen in the team's lackluster draft record since 2007 and general inability to find contributors on the cheap at the end of the bench aside from unexpected breakout trade acquisitions such as Shannon Brown, Jordan Hill, and Earl Clark. The art of asset management isn't one that Kupchak and company have handled with great care aside from the big picture ones.
This year, the Lakers executed a well-directed plan for how to address these needs and paired it with some very respectable coaching at summer league -- for an utter contrast, see the disaster that was last season under Chuck Person, who ran a rudderless team on both ends into the ground -- to great effect. Pretty much everyone on the team fit some profile of what the Lakers needed, even the bottom of the bench ones such as Seeley (dynamic scoring), Selby (perimeter athleticism), and Viney (shooting). They failed to have these guys pan out, but there clearly was an endgame that they possibly saw these guys being a part of. And that, even more than the fact that a number of guys from the summer league team might wear the purple and gold on opening night, is the endearing thing to take from this endeavor.
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