The commonly held aphorism with regards to summer league is that you should take everything with a grain of salt: the level of competition is fairly low, players were thrown together and forced into an unfamiliar and relatively basic system on short notice, and there are only a handful of games to really divine anything from. We should add another wrinkle into the equation, however, namely that the Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis head coaching experiment is severely hampering the players on the court. The Lakers can barely execute a dribble handoff correctly, take ten seconds to get into position for a simple high pick-and-roll, and consistently look lost on their rotations on defense. It remains somewhat baffling that Madsen was selected to coach the Lakers' affiliate at one point since the team barely seems as if it has an idea of what they're doing on the court and it showed in the box score as they got steamrolled by the Pelicans nearly every quarter.
And before you complain that summer league generally doesn't have a high level of coaching, look at the disciplined sets that were run last year under Dan D'Antoni, or for a more recent example, new Cleveland coach David Blatt throwing out different types of zone defense despite barely being on the job for more than a few weeks. This Laker squad has a lot more talent than the one that was cobbled together last year and probably would be annihilated by the latter if the two were to play against one another. We've talked a lot about the Lakers needing to take summer league seriously as a means of finding talent and while they've done a good job as far as the team building part of it, the coaching aspect is severely lacking. As a result, good performances become all the more impressive since those more or less come when the relevant players begin to freelance and take the offense into their own hands.
This was the case for Jordan Clarkson, who again impressed as a lead guard and although it is still very early, looks much better than his backcourt counterpart in Kendall Marshall. To be fair to Marshall, the lack of direction and structure is severely hurting his overall game; it's not an accident that Mike D'Antoni's system made him look competent. The conspicuous lack of a system just accentuates all of the weaknesses in his game, namely his inability to create offense for himself, as he doesn't really have the spacing and knowledge of where his cutters and shooters are to make consistent reads. Freelancing simply isn't something that is in Marshall's wheelhouse, as he's not a guy who is going to create opportunities with his athleticism or shot making. He did manage to hit a few threes in spot-up situations and emerge with a semi-respectable stat line, but overall, it is important to remember the circumstances under which he is operating in.
As one might expect, this is something that Clarkson can easily deal with, as he has the tools to be effective in the high pick-and-roll and create his own offense when things are breaking down. Whenever Clarkson rounds the corner, he immediately becomes a threat since he is solid at keeping his dribble alive and has the necessary explosion to get to the rim, beat his man, absorb contact, and finish if necessary. He also demonstrated more of the spot-up game he provided glimpses of in the first game, as he consistently nailed open opportunities behind the arc, something that will be hugely useful if it translates to the next level. On the other end, Clarkson tends to help too much -- although the Lakers as a whole look horrendous on defense, so not sure one can read too much into this -- but his length really shows on his contests, as he's disrupting shots and causing steals whenever he's within an opposing player's airspace.
Clarkson's thunder was understandably stolen, however, by the debut of his fellow rookie Julius Randle, who didn't play that many minutes likely due to conditioning issues and having not really practiced due to his contract situation. When he was on the floor, Randle's game was all about taking his man off the dribble and using his first step and solid ballhandling for a big to get to the rim. And although he only ever finishes left, his size/strength combination along with very good body control allows him to absorb contact and finish over opponents even when a lane isn't there. When given sufficient space to operate in and gets a head of steam, Randle's simply a load to stop and he drew quite a few fouls from defenders who were trying not to get bowled over while staying in front of him. The next step for him will be nailing the jumpers he missed and as with everyone else on the team, improving his defense, although Randle did have a handful of nice rotations and displayed his lateral quickness on one sequence sticking with Russ Smith all the way from the top of the key to the rim on a switch.
Ultimately, neither Clarkson nor Randle emerged as the lead performer of the day, as that honor went to a surprising candidate in Trey Thompkins, who wasn't even on the initial roster the Lakers released. A former draft pick let go by the Clippers, Thompkins was a versatile forward during his time at Georgia, capable of stepping outside to hit jumpers and also doing work on the block. In this game, he was able to do both, demonstrating good patience and fluidity in his post-ups while nailing the spot-up opportunities he was afforded. He ended up finishing with 18 points and five rebounds on a near-perfect 95.3 TS% and at this juncture, one hopes that the minutes for the Lakers' underperforming centers in Xavier Gibson and Jerome Jordan are excised and given to Thompkins.
Other performers of note include DeAndre Kane, the team's leader in assists for the game and probably deserving of more playing time as the lead guard to see what he can do, and Rodrigue Beaubois, who hit a few threes late to try to paper over an otherwise underwhelming showing. That this compromises the remaining list points to how dismal the team looks overall, especially since we're at game two and time is running out for anyone else to enter the conversation. One especially wonders what on earth is going on with LaQuinton Ross, as expected bench warmer Renaldo Woolridge now has more minutes in these two games than he does.
As mentioned earlier, it's hard to say whether the team's overall dysfunction is to blame for this or the individual players are simply much less talented than we gave them credit for, but outside of the current Laker players (Marshall, Clarkson, Randle), it's hard to see anyone not named Kane or Thompkins emerging as a contributor possibly deserving of a camp invite. That's not entirely a bad thing, as hopefully the coaches will start to tighten the rotation and give those who are performing more minutes, but the process to get to this point has been fairly dismal all around. We saw the fruits of having a firm system in place last offseason with the D'Antoni brothers in charge and right now, the team resembles the 2012 summer league squad that dropped four games by an average of 28 points per game. Quite simply, that's not an acceptable result considering the talent on this roster and hopefully the team starts to turn things around as Randle gets more ingratiated into the rotation moving forward.
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