LAS VEGAS- The Los Angeles Lakers’ time at Las Vegas Summer League may not have ended with the title the team hoped for, but overall the tournament did answer many of the questions about their roster.
Brandon Ingram flashed plenty of potential, but the second-overall pick also made it clear he still has a long way to go to reach his ceiling as a player. The other member of the Lakers’ 2016 draft class, 32nd-overall pick Ivica Zubac, showed that he may be a better prospect and further along than anyone really expected.
As for the returning second-year players, D’Angelo Russell demonstrated his scoring ability is too far advanced for the tournament, but also that the team wants to make sure it doesn’t keep him from making plays for others. Despite an unfortunate injury to prematurely end it, Larry Nance, Jr.’s second stint at summer league proved he’s the real king of Las Vegas.
The one major question mark left about the Lakers is regarding their fellow sophomore, Anthony Brown. What exactly was he trying to show during summer league?
“First thing, that I'm the best defender on the team, obviously,” Brown said after the Lakers’ win over the Golden State Warriors, his soft-spoken tone at odds with the self-confidence of his statement. “You know that's how I feel, so obviously I want to establish that.”
If Brown didn’t establish that, he came pretty close. The 6’8 wing used his 6’11 wingspan to harass over-matched summer leaguers into turnovers or errant shots that just barely got past his fingertips.
“He's been one of our best there, so we're really pleased with that,” said the Lakers head coach for Summer League, Jesse Mermuys. “His effort and his physicality is what has surprised me there, he's been a much more physical defender than I thought he was.”
Multiple Lakers coaches used the term “physicality” to describe Brown’s defense, and not only did he use that physicality to get into the body of the players he’s guarded, or to grab or push them around on defense, but also to slither around or fight through countless screens both on and off the ball.
While all of that has impressed him, Mermuys still wasn’t quite willing to go as far as anointing Brown the best defender on the team yet.
“It's hard to say the best, because I feel like Big Z has really protected the rim for us, and when breakdown's have happened out on the perimeter, Big Z has been great for us as far as protecting those guys,” said Mermuys. “But [Brown is] right there. AB, perimeter-wise, has done a really nice job defensively for us. “
So Brown was close to reaching his goal, and was almost assuredly the best perimeter defender on the team. As far as his other goals for Las Vegas, those went a little less well.
“Obviously that I can make shots,” Brown said of his offensive goals for the tournament. “And for me, continuing to build my game off the dribble is probably the biggest thing for me, from the summer league.”
Thursday night got off to a good enough start for Brown in the shot making department. The 2015 second round pick leaked out in transition and received a pass from Ingram, catching the ball and gliding to the basket to dunk it home for the Lakers' first points of the night.
They were also Brown’s only points of the game. His next shot was a missed three-pointer, and he failed to convert his next three attempts as well. Knocking down his (often wide open) jumpers has been a consistent struggle from Brown in the pros, and the major factor limiting his ceiling as a player going forward.
Brown’s inability to convert would be less puzzling had he not been so prolific from behind the arc in college, canning 40.3 percent of his three-pointers over his five years at Stanford.
That has, um, not translated to the pros. Brown only shot 28.6 percent on threes during his rookie season (and just 31 percent overall), and his summer league stats haven’t been much better. The second-year wing’s drought continued in the desert, where Brown averaged seven points per game on 36.1 percent shooting, while only making 29.4 percent of his threes.
Still, there are signs that a downpour may come at some point. Brown saved his best offensive game for last, and while his 15 points on 5-13 shooting won’t blow anyone away, he also won’t be getting 13 shots per game in the regular season. The more meaningful number was Brown going 3-5 from range, a success rate he hopes he can continue when the Lakers get back together for training camp.
“I was definitely not happy with my offense all week, but I think today was a step toward where I want to get to,” said Brown following the Lakers’ loss, and his effort was indeed a baby step in the right direction.
Brown played the same active defense that’s become his calling card in the Lakers’ near comeback, including late in the fourth quarter when his activity helped force Utah Jazz point guard Marcus Paige to toss a pass out of bounds trying to get it around him. The difference was that this time Brown made several key plays down the stretch offensively as well, draining all three of his made three-pointers in the final period as the Lakers tried to erase a nine point deficit.
Brown also managed to show off some ability to finish through contact for his final basket, taking a hit from Tibor Pleiss and rising to complete the layup, with his free throw giving him his 15th point and bringing the Lakers within four.
His assist to center Ivica Zubac with 14.4 seconds left brought Los Angeles within two, and when Paige made only one of his two free throws off of the intentional foul, the Lakers had a chance for some consolation game overtime.
Brown shared a laugh with rookie Brandon Ingram as the two walked up the court, the two wings seemingly trying to keep the moment light, but it wasn’t enough. The team showed enough confidence to go to Brown for their final shot of the tournament, but he was unable to knock it down:
That's a wrap for the Lakers from Vegas pic.twitter.com/YkvUKAta2c— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 16, 2016
Despite the result, Lakers assistant coach Theo Robertson was still pleased with the bounce back from Brown, and hoped he could continue his improved shooting through the summer and into training camp.
“Really pleased that another one of our main guys for the Lakers is able to get out there and have some success,” Robertson said of Brown’s final game. “He had the ball in his hands sometimes and was able to make some plays and shots for us, so hopefully that took some great confidence headed into the rest of the summer for him.”
Brown knows how crucial that is, as wells as that if he can’t continue to knock down shots, he likely won’t play much.
“Make more shots. That's the number one thing,” Brown said simply of his goals for the offseason. “If I do that, I'll probably get on the court, but without that, I probably won’t get on the court."
Earlier in the week, Brown mentioned that he was only just now beginning to feel like he wasn’t “stuck in the mud” on offense following his recovery from a stress reaction in his right foot last season. If he’s indeed beginning to reach an equilibrium physically, then maybe Brown could once again become “one of the better shooters” like he says used to be.
Even if Brown only becomes average from behind the arc, that will make him exactly the type of versatile, “three-and-D” style role player every modern NBA team covets due to his defensive value. Brown noted after the tournament that he appreciates the opportunities the Lakers have given him to show he can grow into such a role.
“Obviously it's discouraging when you don't make shots, but I feel like I've gotten a lot of chances to show what I can do,” said Brown. “And the fact that I'm getting chances is still good for me."
It would be better if more of his shots started to find the bottom of the net during those chances, a process the Lakers and Brown hope began on Friday night. Either way, the Lakers will know by the end of next season exactly what Brown is in the NBA, answering one more question about their roster moving forward.