With everyone's attention affixed on a tremendous day of free agency in the NBA, the Lakers' summer league game was sure to be a bit of a letdown in comparison, especially when it was announced that Julius Randle was not going to participate. There certainly are other names on the roster that hold interest for a Lakers team that still significantly lacks depth and talent, but altogether, one imagines that most fans tuned into the game with the notion that they would get to see one of the best rookie prospects the Lakers have had in the past two decades. And without him, the team certainly looked disjointed, as a poorly run offense and some poor play from the group of bigs the Lakers cobbled together for the summer doing their best to painfully remind us of Randle's absence.
One saw this in the first half, as the Lakers simply couldn't string together a set of good possessions together without turning the ball over or otherwise shooting themselves in the foot. Returning point guard Kendall Marshall still his point guard chops and court vision, but remains such an anemic scorer that Toronto was -- as most of the NBA eventually did last season -- able to play him for the pass nearly every time and completely disrupt the flow of the Lakers' offense. Marshall continues to lack an in-between game and although he seems to have increased the speed of his shot release, he wasn't hitting at all from distance. As a result, possessions led by Marshall were highly stagnant and one imagines that this is going to continue until he figures out how to keep defenses honest with his scoring; the Raptors took a 46-33 lead into halftime due to the Lakers looking lost on offense.
The importance of a point guard who can score especially hit home during this game since as bad as the Lakers looked with Marshall as the lead, they were downright electric once Jordan Clarkson took the reins of the offense. We knew Clarkson was athletic and could get to the rim -- although perhaps not that athletic or good at finishing; Clarkson had some impressive buckets, especially after absorbing contact -- but he looked very comfortable consistently running the high pick-and-roll and making solid reads while keeping his dribble alive. Due to his first step, he commanded the opposing help defense the entire day and was making correct passes to the corner or wing for shooters or cutters on the baseline. He even addressed some of the issues with his outside shooting, as he hit a few threes in spot-up situations, although he also showed that he needs a bit of work on his midrange pull-up jumper.
Clarkson ultimately finished with a solid line of 21 points, four rebounds, and three assists on a 61.0 TS% and the life he breathed back into the Lakers' offense in the second half allowed a few other players to bring some production of their own. The most emphatic of these was Trevor Mbakwe, who took advantage of Randle's absence to claim more playing time and punctuated it with a vicious dunk off a Clarkson pass in the second half. He clearly doesn't have much of an offensive game overall and his attempts to create off the dribble went awry most of the time, but his overall energy around the rim allowed him to be effective and lead the team with eight rebounds. Other contributors of note were Roscoe Smith, another high energy performer who was able to get points on cuts and a surprisingly accurate midrange jumper, and Kevin Murphy, who was a bit rocky from an efficiency standpoint but a big beneficiary of Clarkson's passing and the better overall offensive flow in the second half.
The rest of the roster left much to be desired, although to be fair, the coaches were trying to get a lot of players onto the floor and we'll probably see the rotation tighten as the games go on. Both centers in Xavier Gibson and Jerome Jordan were forgettable, neither guarding the rim particularly well or being a factor on the post, pick-and-roll, or elsewhere. Indeed, the Lakers went with small lineups for most of the game with either Mbakwe or Trey Thompkins, the latter a late addition to the roster who acquitted himself decently well, at the five and the collective inability of the frontcourt to engineer their own offense created most of the problems on offense until Clarkson took over as the primary ballhandler. On that note, both DeAndre Kane and Rodrigue Beaubois only got spot minutes handling the ball and while the former had a few nice plays, the latter very much resembled a guy who washed out of the league.
Overall, this was a rocky performance for the Lakers, especially in comparison to how disciplined the team was under Dan D'Antoni last time around, and Randle's absence significantly diminished the dynamic the Lakers were probably expecting to work under on offense. Sunday will hopefully bring that back into the picture and Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis will probably start tweaking with the rotation to get those who are contributing on the floor more often. Kane, Smith, and Murphy are the early winners in that category, but it's a bit early to really declare anything definitive in that regard and LaQuinton Ross, who bizarrely received a DNP-CD, will probably vie for minutes as well. All this notwithstanding, the Lakers emerged from this game with a much better idea of what they have in Clarkson and if he can sustain this momentum moving forward, it certainly is something to be quite excited about.
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