LAS VEGAS- A poor shooting half against the Philadelphia 76ers aside, the Los Angeles Lakers have been matching the sweltering heat of Las Vegas Summer League with their own firepower through three games of the tournament. The team is undefeated at 3-0, earning a bye until Thursday, and according to Anthony Brown, the team’s new offense is a major reason for optimism going forward.
“I like it,” said Brown after scoring eight points in the Lakers’ 78-65 victory over the Golden State Warriors. “Obviously it's not exactly what Luke's is, it's a little hybrid because he's not coaching, but I do definitely think it's better, for all of us, everybody.”
Brown’s production points to a major reason why he’s not the only member of the team enjoying themselves in the new system: even if it often finds itself in the hands of en fuego guard D’Angelo Russell, the ball and the players are moving.
“I feel like everybody touches the ball,” continued Brown. “We got Larry Nance[, Jr.] bringing up the ball up. I don't think he would've ever brought the ball up last year, and you see what he can do, so imagine what Julius, Clarkson, and the main guys will be able to do."
Brown’s anecdote does bring about tantalizing visions of success for those two members of the Lakers young core, and exhibit A for why those dreams could soon become reality has been the play of Russell.
The guard’s 22.7 points per game currently ranks fifth in scoring among players competing in summer league, and while it is “just summer league,” Russell’s production has come on an efficient 53.3 percent shooting.
Still, the young guard wasn’t satisfied with the performance that left the Thomas and Mack center roaring. He still thinks the Lakers have a lot of room for improvement.
“I bailed us out, I was making some tough shots, but we came out sluggish and turning the ball over and not executing,” said Russell, who scored 26 points on 13 shots on the night. “They were denying and we just went over what we do when teams deny it, and we didn't do that.”
The critique was surprisingly harsh on a night the Lakers won by 13 points in a game that was never really close following a 13-point barrage from Russell in the second quarter. Russell chalked up most of the Lakers’ issues to defense (a common problem for the Lakers last season), but his coaches also want to make sure that the newfound freedom on offense doesn’t lead to bad habits from the 2015 second overall pick.
“It's hard for these young guys, and I feel for them a little bit, because when you have the ability to [score like Russell], obviously that flash is exciting, I'm sure he enjoys it, and it's fun to watch for the fans," said Lakers summer league head coach Jesse Mermuys, "[But] as a head coach I'm kind of trying to rein him in, and that's hard, that's a hard process where I want him to feel confident and you want him to have that swag and it's unbelievable, it's powerful. But we want him to be able to do it at the right times and doing it in a winning style of play.”
Mermuys credited Russell for being coachable and changing up his approach by trying to get his teammates more involved in the second half, and discovering the right mix will take time for the 20-year old sophomore. The beauty of Los Angeles’ new offense is how it gives every player on the floor a chance to be a threat, but that type of freedom can be just as much of a danger to the Lakers themselves if the ball sticks in any one player’s hands too often.
This stuff doesn’t happen overnight, even in Las Vegas where nights often stretch far longer than normal for most. The type of improvement the Lakers are looking for will take patience, and Brown noted Russell’s own confidence hasn’t been shaken, and that along with his intelligence, offers major reason for belief he’ll figure things out sooner rather than later.
“His confidence is at an all-time high,” said Brown. “Just him coming out here, I think he just wanted to show how much he's been working. We all know how good he is, and I think that last year he didn't really show the full capability that he wanted to.
“But he's talented, and he's probably one of the smartest players, if not the smartest IQ-wise, on our team.”
If and when Russell’s talent and IQ begin to mesh in the Lakers’ new offense more consistently, nights like Monday will start to happen in more than “just summer league.” They’ll also leave him and the team far more satisfied afterwards.