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Lakers Summer League Recap: Embracing the Future

The Lakers emerged from summer league with a much better idea of what their two rookies can do, and despite very uneven coaching from Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis, managed to locate a handful of targets for possible camp invites.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In years past, summer league was mostly an exercise the Lakers went through the motions at, as they were primarily interested in seeing how their rookies would perform and little else. The remainder of the roster was more or less just filler to process and as the Lakers started to sacrifice draft picks for their championship runs, their summer league teams suffered as well. Their 2012 summer league team was the culmination of this process, as the Lakers trotted out a truly brutal group of late second rounders and other flotsam that got dominated in four consecutive losses by an average of 28.5 points per game. Since then, the team has started to take its summer league teams a bit more seriously and the roster building effort has been much better oriented towards trying to find contributors.

As far as this current summer league goes, the Lakers weren't all that successful on the front: the only thing they're likely to reap from the time here was getting a better idea of the play of their current rookies since the majority of the roster was fairly dismal. Still, the overall roster building process was sound on paper and if anything, the only thing to blame is the glacial pace the Lakers have executed their coaching search with. In the absence of a head coach, Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis weren't exactly inspiring confidence in their bona fides due to the fairly team's fairly poor execution and the seeming lack of a cohesive system. If anything, it became a test for who could adequately create for themselves when the set plays inevitably broke down and these performers were easily identified as summer league went on.

The other factor ameliorating the summer!Lakers' poor performance is that the roster simply doesn't have a whole lot of room for additions at this point. Observe the current depth chart:

Position Starters Bench Third String
PG Jeremy Lin Jordan Clarkson Steve Nash
SG Kobe Bryant Xavier Henry ---
SF Nick Young Wesley Johnson ---
PF Julius Randle Carlos Boozer Ryan Kelly
C Jordan Hill Ed Davis Robert Sacre

The notion that vast swaths of the roster are deadline trade bait notwithstanding, the sole openings appear to be those for the third point guard due to Nash's fragility and the fifth wing. And considering that practically every point guard not named Clarkson, who is already on this depth chart, was utterly terrible, that leaves us with an additional wing as the only realistic camp addition from this bunch. This isn't a completely unsurprising development given that most teams have filled up their rosters by now and it's very rare for a summer league player to make any inroads on the parent team's rotation. Nevertheless, the limited opportunities jives with the reality that nearly everyone was awful, so you take what you can get.

With that in mind, let us go through how each player performed and how their future prospects look at the moment:

The Rookies

Julius Randle

23.5 12.5 4.3 1.5 41.9 00.0 63.6

Randle's final game was rather underwhelming, but it drives home the fact that he was wasn't operating at full strength as far as his conditioning went for the entirety of summer league. Having by his own admission not played five on five basketball since Kentucky's loss to Connecticut in the national title game and forced to stay on the sidelines in practice due to his contract situation, Randle's substandard conditioning hurt him in various parts of his game, from his jumper on offense to his rebounding on the other end. His competitiveness certainly shined through, but we didn't get to see the nonstop motor that was supposed to be one of his defining traits as a prospect.

And all of this just serves to make what he did manage to do all the more impressive since if a not-in-shape Randle can easily beat opposing bigs with his first step and have sufficient lateral quickness to check guards on the perimeter, then we really should look forward to what Randle is going to look like moving forward. He quickly made the frequent Zach Randolph comparisons look rather foolish, as he almost exclusively attacked from the high post and even from behind the arc again and again, using his speed to get past his defender to the rim, his strength to absorb any contact he received, and his rather incredible body control for a player of his size to bounce off his defender and score.

Randle also demonstrated that his face-up game is more nuanced that we initially gave it credit for. With a sufficiently spaced floor, Randle was not only making it to the rim, but making solid reads to hit open shooters on the wing and cutters on the baseline. This minimized the out-of-control drives into multiple defenders that typified a lot of his time at Kentucky and was a nice indication of his overall court vision. There's still a lot of work Randle has to do, from proving that he has a midrange jumper to complement his driving to getting in shape to help out his rebounding and overall game, but the initial returns are quite promising and he's by far the most exciting part of what should otherwise be a dismal Lakers season.

Jordan Clarkson

30.6 15.8 5.0 1.2 42.4 42.1 88.2

We expected Randle to dominate, but Clarkson was unarguably the Lakers' summer league MVP, displaying a profound ability to score and make reads in the pick-and-roll. Clarkson certainly has sufficient athleticism to beat his man and get to the rim and pairs that with good awareness of when to keep his dribble alive, an underrated skill for a ballhandler that allows him to wait for driving or passing lanes to open up. More often than not, Clarkson's objective when driving was to score, although he did have a good deal of on point passes throughout his time in Vegas that evoke some hope for a possible future at point guard. This is something that will be tested fairly soon, considering that Clarkson projects as the primary backup at point guard in the Lakers' rotation because one can't really rely on Nash to be healthy for any significant part of next season.

Seeing that Clarkson will likely have to play with some combination of Kobe, Young, and Randle next season, it also helps that his spot-up game was surprisingly solid, an important development seeing that it was the deterioration of Clarkson's shot that was one of the main factors that tanked his draft stock. It probably isn't quite as good as he demonstrated in Vegas, but if it can be moderately consistent, then Clarkson probably has a solid case for not only minutes at the point, but time off the ball as well. From the moment he was drafted, Clarkson has been a string of unexpected surprises and hopefully that continues into the regular season.

The Standouts

Kevin Murphy

20.0 10.2 1.6 0.8 45.0 30.8 68.8

"Standout" is perhaps a strong term given how poorly the rest of the team did, although Murphy probably deserves it on merit instead of just looking good in comparison to the competition. Most of Murphy's damage was done coming off screens and hitting from midrange and that's not a skill replete throughout the current Lakers' roster, so he offers some value in that area. Murphy also paired this with a good awareness for how to use fakes to compensate for his so-so athleticism and ballhandling ability and to both open up space and draw fouls. A standout performer in the D-League, Murphy was more or less the only player not currently on the Lakers roster who followed through on the potential he displayed prior to summer league and as noted above, the fifth wing spot is one of the few remaining spots left for the taking. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see him end up in purple and gold by the time training camp rolls around.

Trey Thompkins

18.0 10.5 4.3 0.3 56.7 44.4 100.0

As for Thompkins, unfortunately, he might make it to camp as an extra body, but unlike Murphy, his chances of making the actual roster are fairly dismal. The team has six bigs signed and there won't even be enough playing time to go around as it is, let alone if they add someone else to the mix. This is especially relevant seeing that Kelly, who can also stretch the floor like Thompkins, will probably be one of the bigs screwed by the rotation, so adding to the problem doesn't really make sense. As a result, Thompkins will be on the outside looking in no matter how this plays out and he honestly should look into finding another team's training camp to get invited to for the sake of his own prospects.

This is again, unfortunate, since Thompkins was one of the Lakers' best players in Vegas and the additional spacing he provided at the five did a great deal to help out Randle when the two were on the floor together. Thompkins, moreover, proved that he's more than just a spot-up shooter, showing a decent post game and he was especially adept at getting his post fallaway jumper to consistently fall. The ability to provide a multidimensional game on offense is a decent tool in the modern NBA and some team probably should take advantage of it; the Lakers simply won't be that team when October rolls around.

The Waived

Kendall Marshall

26.3 8.3 2.8 3.0 31.4 23.1 100.0

You have to wonder how much Marshall's fairly awful summer league performance contributed to the decision by the front office to consider him expendable and waive him in order to make room for the various moves they've made this summer. He managed to fight back into the league last year on the strength of his passing and shooting, but it was fairly evident that he still had to improve in certain areas in order to secure his spot, namely his in-between game and resembling something other than a turnstile on defense. Neither of those things manifested in Marshall's game in Vegas and indeed, his supposed strengths weren't apparent either; the offense tended to bog down when he was running it and largely was only restored to something serviceable once Clarkson and/or Randle started taking over.

Clarkson's rise in particular meant that Marshall was facing a demotion to the third point guard spot and perhaps even further whenever Nash happens to be healthy next year. The availability of other options at the position probably helped the Lakers make their decision, but the reality is that in the modern NBA, even a nominally pass-first point guard needs ways to keep defenses honest. Marshall was an anemic scoring threat even in the context of summer league, a notoriously guard friendly environment in which good defense isn't exactly the norm, so shooting 31.4% doesn't serve to inspire confidence. Ultimately, Marshall will probably endure in the league for a while as a so-so backup so long as his spot-up shooting stays up to par. It's simply a question of whether he can progress from that level and you could be forgiven if you had significant doubts on that count.

The Rest

Rodrigue Beaubois

14.2 4.0 1.4 0.2 30.4 28.6 66.7

From this point onward, trying to parse the minute amounts of "good" from the colossal amount of "bad" in these players' performances is a bit of a pointless exercise, with a few exceptions thrown into the mix. Beaubois is definitely not one of those exceptions and he more or less lived up to our initial expectations that he was going to be highly unimpressive. Whether it was at point guard, where he looked utterly hapless running the offense, or at the two, at which his poor spot-up shooting and lackluster drive game were consistently exposed, Beaubois simply failed to make any headway on changing the perception on why he's out of the league. It's telling that he needed two late garbage time threes in the Pelicans game to give the shallowest veneer of a positive performance and at age 26, this feels like the end of the line for him as far as the NBA is concerned.

Xavier Gibson

8.8 4.3 1.8 0.0 66.7 00.0 83.3

For the majority of his time in Vegas, Gibson was almost a complete non-factor, his supposed range on his jumper from behind the arc never materializing and he was in general, rather invisible on the court. The sole exception was in the last game, as Gibson was able to take advantage of one of the Lakers' better team offensive performances of summer league to get easy buckets at the rim on cuts and hit some midrange shots as well. This doesn't really move the needle on what was an otherwise underwhelming performance from him on the whole and it's telling that the team eventually moved away from the two traditional fives on the roster to maximize the spacing on the floor. It was always going to be a long shot for Gibson to make any noise in Vegas, the aforementioned possibility of him being a stretch five the most compelling thing about him, and once that was debunked, the rest was history.

Anthony Ireland

6.0 0.3 1.3 0.3 00.0 00.0 50.0

To be fair to Ireland, he barely saw the floor, so it's rather hard to throw much opprobrium his way for bad play, although it is somewhat telling when you can't crack the rotation of a squad with so many bad performers. Regardless, as a 5'10'' point guard, Ireland either needs superlative athleticism or an elite skill set to crack into the league, and while it should be repeated that you can't exactly discern a whole lot from 18 minutes of play, it's a pretty safe bet that he doesn't have either of those things. And that's perfectly fine for Ireland since he more or less succeeded in what he came to Vegas to do by nabbing a contract with the French club Elan Chalon, so best of luck to him and hopefully he has a long and productive career in Europe.

Jerome Jordan

11.0 1.0 2.8 0.5 9.1 00.0 50.0

Jordan hadn't exactly set the world on fire in his previous stops in the D-League and abroad in Europe, but one at least expected a certain level of competency from a player of his age. Needless to say, that wasn't exactly the case for his play in Vegas, as he could barely draw iron on the rim, let alone make a field goal until the final game. Even with his post game not really being considered a major weapon, he looked especially hapless on the block and save for some big blocks on defense, was completely ineffectual. While part of the reason for Thompkins ultimately taking the starting center spot was that the additional spacing he provided helped out Randle, it's also because Jordan and Gibson didn't do anything to deserve minutes either. Seven footers with Jordan's size are a rare commodity, but even they run out of rope at some juncture as far as the league goes, which appears to be the case for Jordan.

DeAndre Kane

19.6 5.6 2.2 1.8 44.4 10.0 50.0

It's a damned pity that it took Kane until the final game of summer league to play the kind of game commiserate with his talent level, as he had it within him to do that the entirety of summer league. Whether it was taking controlled drives to the rim instead of flailing into multiple defenders, surveying the floor on post-ups while using his big 6'4'' frame for a point guard to bully his defender, or grabbing rebounds to start the break, Kane probably could have had a decent shot to get to training camp if his last game was the norm for him. Unfortunately, his other performances weren't just inadequate but downright awful, so one good game doesn't erase the stink the rest left on him.

It might be a bit premature to declare this the end for Kane, as while 25 is old, it's not that old and he'll have his opportunities to play abroad or try to make his way through the D-League. Still, we noted that it would be important for Kane to show that he could produce immediately because that's more or less what's expected of him at his age. No one is going to be taking a flyer on Kane for future upside, as it's all a question of current production and to say that that was lacking on his part with the Lakers in Vegas is a huge understatement.

Trevor Mbakwe

17.0 4.2 4.2 0.6 71.4 00.0 25.0

Mbakwe was as advertised: a ferocious undersized rebounder with little to no offensive game that was going to win battles in the paint on sheer motor. On a team like this in which the overall offensive scheme was lacking and the players constantly looked lost, Mbakwe's energy was a breath of fresh air, even with the unfortunate reality that being stuck behind Randle and eventually Thompkins in the rotation was going to hurt him as far as getting noticed by a NBA or overseas team went. He did attempt to break the mold a few times by attempting a handful of 15-17 footers, but most of them went awry. Mbakwe is what he is at this juncture and although significant improvement probably isn't in the books, he's going to have a long career, whether it's overseas or eventually in the league, because of his superlative rebounding.

LaQuinton Ross

10.3 3.0 2.0 0.7 12.5 00.0 87.5

The other of our favorites to produce in Vegas other than Kane, Ross was not only ineffective, but baffling just from the perspective that he completely went against the available scouting report on him. Thought to be primarily a spot-up shooter and occasional straight-line driver, Ross tried to ply his craft in the post against smaller wings to mostly limited success, although he did manage to be a minor factor on the offensive boards because of his sheer length. He wasn't particularly effective on the other end either, Orlando Johnson frequently scoring over him when the two were matched against one another.

That's about the limit of what one can say about Ross from the time he spent on the floor, but it still comes across as disappointing for a guy who was on the second round bubble -- 62nd in Draft Express' rankings, 70th in ESPN's Chad Ford's -- and that he failed to crack the wing rotation on a team that utterly lacked quality players there besides Murphy was fairly telling. He had the opportunity to show that a lot of teams goofed in passing on him and obviously, that appears to be as far from the truth as you can get at the moment, as Ross has an awful lot to prove in either the D-League or abroad if he wants any chance of restoring his stock.

Roscoe Smith

12.8 5.0 2.0 0.0 56.3 00.0 63.6

Meet the best wing for the Lakers in Vegas not named Murphy, not a stellar achievement given how awful nearly the entire rotation was, but Smith had quite a few good moments to his credit even in limited minutes. He's a smart cutter to the basket, lurking constantly on the baseline both to make himself available for a pass and to put himself in position to attack the offensive boards. His overall effort on rebounds was generally solid, something unsurprising from a guy who a rather incredible rebounder at UNLV for a player of his size. He also showed signs of life as far as his jumper, the part of his game he desperately needs to improve to have any long-term future in this league, was concerned, so hopefully that upwards development continues for him wherever he happens to end up next. He's still a limited player on the whole, but he does a sufficient amount of the ancillary things well to keep an eye on should that jumper develop.

Renaldo Woolridge

3.5 2.0 1.0 0.0 66.7 00.0 00.0

After somehow finding his way onto the Lakers' summer league squad for a second straight year, Woolridge played the same amount of total minutes as in 2013, threw down a pair of garbage time dunks, and was subsequently never heard from again. It's rather pointless to discuss his merits as a player since he's a fringe prospect even by the standards of most overseas leagues and it's hard to consider his time in Vegas as little more than a favor to him to help him get some exposure for his next contract somewhere. Hopefully that turns out well for him, but as far as the parent team is concerned, he's really a non-factor.

Scott Wood

8.3 0.5 0.8 0.0 12.5 0.00 00.0

Ultimately, Woolridge wasn't a big deal as far as the team's rotation was concerned since he only appeared in short cameos in garbage time, but Wood not only played real rotation minutes, he bizarrely started two games despite being by far the worst wing on the roster. In that time, the supposed designated shooter proceeded to miss all but one of his shots, be a turnstile on defense, and be remarkably ineffective despite nearly all of his spot-up opportunities coming while wide open. There was a lot of bad play for the Lakers in summer league, but some of it can at least be couched in context and there were good things to see if you dug hard enough. For Wood, there were practically no redeeming things to find in his performance and it's hard to argue with the notion that his minutes should have been going to almost anyone else on the roster.

That says something given how bad the rest of the roster was and it's highly unlikely that anyone ends up with something similar to the deal Elias Harris got last summer. Sometimes that's just how things play out since if the draft is a crapshoot, cycling through the players on the periphery of the league is going to be even more of one, so we can at least credit the Lakers for giving it a game effort this time around. Randle and Clarkson did do quite a bit to ameliorate any of this and when it comes down to it, it seems that the decision by Kupchak and co. to buy a pick from the Wizards may end up being one of their best decisions from this summer, which so far has fairly promising results as far this summer league goes.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.

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