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Lakers 2016 Summer League Preview: The rebuild marches onward

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As the confusing and at times inexplicable whirlwind of free agency has largely gone by for the Lakers, we turn our eyes toward watching the future of the team in Las Vegas.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Every iteration of this column for the past few years has had some statement attempting to assuage readers here beset with worry about the Los Angeles Lakers' moribund free agency fortunes by pointing toward the team's summer league team as a sign of optimism. Lo and behold, we are confronted with a similar situation this year, although instead of the Lakers failing to retain their own free agents (Dwight Howard) or falling short in their chase of the big fish (Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge), the team has made a pair of controversial signings in size and length to a pair of solid albeit unspectacular options in Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. Even though this is a welcome departure from the team's utter apathy in pursuing mid-tier options in past years, the end result nevertheless feels underwhelming when viewed in light of the positive momentum that preceded free agency between the draft and the Lakers' coaching change.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this summer league team should be ... wait for it ... a reason to feel better about the team again! This should especially hit home this time around since Mark Madsen isn't implementing Byron Scott's system for a roster that amounted to a juggernaut by summer league standards last year. Instead, new addition Jesse Mermuys, who has two stints as Toronto's summer league head coach and one year leading the Raptors' D-League squad, will be showing the Lakers the system Luke Walton brought over from Golden State for what again should be hell of a summer league squad. To wit, the Lakers will dress a pair of second-overall picks, a trio of late first-round and early second-round picks, and a panoply of interesting undrafted and veteran free agent options.

That this team, like last year's team, has a lot of players who will end up on the final roster is one hand cause for concern given how young the overall squad is, but also a reminder that no matter how free agency went, the Lakers are only going to go as far as the kids can take them next season. As such, getting our first taste of the young core's development under an actually functional system and coach should be fascinating as they take the next step in the rebuilding process. Without further ado, we will take a closer look at each participant on the squad, separating them into the recent draftees, current sophomores, undrafted free agents, and the rest of the bunch:

THE ROOKIES (DRAFTED)

Brandon Ingram

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
18 Duke (Freshman) 17.3 6.6 2.0 44.2 41.0 68.2
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
6'8'' 6'9.5'' 196 7'3'' N/A N/A 9'1.5'' N/A N/A

Just as the Lakers' other top picks were the top attractions in the previous two years of summer league, so will all eyes be on Ingram in Vegas. Young even by the standards of a very embryonic Lakers roster, Ingram nevertheless has the tools to shine in this setting even with a very skinny frame by the standards of a NBA wing. This revolves primarily around his insane length -- his standing reach is longer than that of Kawhi Leonard, for instance -- for the small forward position, all of which allows him to shoot over nearly any defender, play off his man on defense while still being able to effectively contest, and compensate for his average first step by being a long strider who can quickly close the distance between him and the rim.

Ingram still has to tighten his dribble and grow more capable of being a threat in the pick-and-roll, but he's a surprisingly multifaceted offensive option for someone of his age and without superlative athletic tools. He spent a fair chunk of his time in college in isolation, using his aforementioned length and strides to get space and flat out abuse college defenders who simply weren't in any position to contest a shot with as high of a release point as Ingram has. Duke did provide him with a capable system and a panoply of shooters to ensure that he had a spaced floor to operate in, but that should also be forthcoming on this summer league squad.

Indeed, how Mermuys will handle the balance between isolating Ingram on good matchups and having him spot-up for others creating will be one of the principal storylines of summer league for LA, as it very well might influence how Ingram is used with the parent team during the regular season. We'll also see how the coaching staff views Ingram vis-à-vis NBA players on defense, as the team has the personnel to hide Ingram on the weaker wing matchup if necessary. The combination of his length and shooting, however, should be sufficient for Ingram to have a good showing, especially with the talent surrounding him, and it will be a lot of fun to see him suit up in the purple-and-gold for the first time.

Ivica Zubac

Age Team (Country) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
19 Mega Leks (Croatia) 10.9 5.0 0.8 50.0 0.00 80.0
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
N/A 7'1'' 265 7'4'' N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Ingram's less heralded rookie compatriot for the Lakers, Zubac was widely viewed as a first-round talent and he has the opportunity to demonstrate why that was the case in Vegas. Much of this centers (no pun intended!) around his excellent size for the five, standing over seven feet in shoes and with a gigantic frame that nevertheless affords him a decent amount of mobility getting up-and-down and side-to-side. Zubac, moreover, has proven that he's not a stiff offensively, using a deft touch around the rim to pair with the fact he's a massive target on the roll, cuts, and in boxing out opponents on the offensive glass. Despite having injuries slow his career up to this point, Zubac has been quite productive in his stops in the Croatian and Serbian Leagues and has a great chance to make an argument for playing time next season.

This will likely turn on how effectively Zubac can mesh with the guards on the roster and make himself available in the pick-and-roll, in addition to how well he can acquit himself defensively. Summer league is sufficiently chaotic and unstructured that points in regular sets might not be forthcoming, an eternal bete noire of bigs in this environment, but Zubac should be able to produce against the average level of frontcourt player that'll be defending him. Insofar as his defense goes, Zubac has the weaknesses you expect of a 19-year-old on this side of the floor, and one imagines that Mermuys will have him laying back against the pick-and-roll to start.

THE SOPHOMORES

Anthony Brown

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Lakers (Stanford) 4.0 2.4 0.7 31.0 28.6 85.0

The majority of the players on this roster are desperately fighting for a NBA contract somewhere, and despite having nominally two years left on his contract, Brown is the incumbent Laker closest to possibly joining them at some point. Incompetent lineup management by Byron Scott aside, Brown never managed to make hay last season despite a skill set seemingly tailored for the modern NBA role player: An ace shooter with enough length and lateral quickness to be effective defensively. This mostly was a result of his shot failing to materialize in any meaningful way, something that when combined with Byron's utter inability to scheme an offense with any sense of flow or movement -- integral things for a primarily spot-up shooter -- led to disaster for Brown, whose season was ended by injury to cap off a forgettable rookie campaign.

Brown will attempt to return to form in Vegas surrounded by a similar amount of talent around him that he had last summer, save with more experience under his belt and an actually competent coach. As with his prior stints, how well this will go depends on the accuracy of his outside shot and how capable he looks as a defender. He showed enough at Stanford that last season can still be considered a mulligan, but time is growing increasingly short for him to show genuine production, lest he get lost in the mix of the Lakers' rebuild.

Larry Nance, Jr.

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Lakers (Wyoming) 5.5 5.0 0.7 52.7 10.0 68.1

In a surprising turn of events, Nance excelled in his rookie season despite seeming destined for heavy D-League seasoning, managing to pair his incredible hops with strong fundamentals on defense and a serviceable midrange shooting stroke. He even managed to flash a little bit of intrigue by spotting up for threes every now and then and occasionally playing as a smallball center. This level of versatility was typical of Nance, who has the role player mentality of "do all the little things" down pat, and he was one of the few members of last season's team to not earn Byron's scorn, as unjustified as that sentiment was in general notwithstanding.

Nance's goal in Vegas should be to continue progressing in his development in all phases, a rather unhelpful statement given the inherent ambiguity but one that fits Nance's all-around game. With a sensible offensive system, he should be much more of a factor in the pick-and-roll -- which ideally would be a lot of pick-and-dunk -- and on cuts, and it would be great if he could sample more three-point opportunities from the wing or the corner. There are enough centers on the roster that Nance likely won't see any time as a smallball five, a role he very well could see himself in at times for the parent team, but regardless, Nance stands to get the lion's share of time at the four this summer.

D'Angelo Russell

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
20 Lakers (Ohio State) 13.2 3.4 3.3 41.0 35.1 73.7

The biggest issue that Russell has to overcome in summer league is proving that his end-of-the-year flurry of production was the real Russell, unencumbered by Byron's mind games and absurd system, and that he can use that as a foundation going forward. So much of what Russell did last season is impossible to divorce from the garbage situation he was placed in, whether it was a panoply of other high usage players limiting his time with the ball or Byron's refusal to un-tether him in lineups from a non-pick-and-roll player in Roy Hibbert. Needless to say, a guy who should have shined in an uptempo, free-flowing system was muzzled significantly, and the Lakers have to pick up the pieces with a brand new system and coach.

Insofar as summer league goes for Russell, however, he should have a fairly unfettered license to direct the offense as he sees fit, and the open court and often chaotic nature of play there should jive nicely with his skill set. Russell, who will very likely be the team's primary ballhandler, should establish his point guard bona fides by maintaining the overall offensive flow, particularly with respect to getting some synergy with the variety of roll men he'll have as partners on the squad. Russell also will likely see time in the post, an area in which he saw success in last season, although the summer squad might not quite have the personnel to maximize his spacing with an inverted floor. Altogether, he's the best player on the squad and however the coaching staff uses him or whatever area of his game Russell chooses to focus on aside, it's incumbent on Russell to flex his talent accordingly in this setting.

THE ROOKIES (UNDRAFTED)

Zach Auguste

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
22 Notre Dame (Senior) 14.0 10.8 1.1 56.0 0.00 62.8
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
N/A 6'10.75'' 237 7'1'' N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Auguste's ability to use his time in summer league as a springboard to the next level -- at least, insofar as his chances to make the Lakers are concerned -- took a severe hit once Tarik Black re-signed with the team, a pity for arguably the most talented of the following players. A relatively undersized five, Auguste is quite athletic and springy for his size, able to beat most bigs down the floor and finish capably around the rim. This makes him an ideal backup in today's league since he's quick enough to not be run off the floor by smallball lineups yet still has enough offensive chops to punish undersized defenders near the basket. That Auguste was an elite rebounder his senior year -- ranking tenth in the entire country in total rebound rate -- only helps his bona fides in this respect, as his ability to clean up the glass is magnified against smaller lineups.

It is unfortunate then for Auguste that this summer league team sports three other centers, making it a difficult proposition for him to see any playing time at the spot unless minutes are appropriately staggered across the team's time in Vegas. Auguste possesses little-to-no range away from the basket, so his effectiveness at power forward will be neutered unless his counterpart in the frontcourt can stretch the floor for him. As such, Auguste very likely will have a tough go of things with this roster unless the coaching staff actively takes steps to help him out, something that might be a worthwhile go considering his talent advantage over a fair chunk of the backup frontcourt.

Nikola Jovanovic

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
22 USC (Junior) 12.1 7.0 0.4 52.4 53.8 65.3
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
N/A 6'11'' 230 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Jovanovic's decision to become pro was a quizzical one considering that while his production his junior year was decent and a relative improvement on his sophomore campaign, it was still relatively ho hum by NBA standards. To wit, Jovanovic possesses neither the athleticism nor shooting ability -- that 3P% figure above is illusive; he only attempted 13 threes all year and is a career 30.5 percent shooter from there -- one expects of modern fours, and aside from being decently long for a four, nothing about him particularly pops off the page from a NBA perspective. On top of this, the aforementioned glut in the frontcourt is an especially poor indication for his prospects, and he very well could struggle to see any significant playing time.

THE REST

Jabari Brown

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 D-Fenders (Missouri) 16.7 2.5 0.7 36.4 27.9 87.8

A familiar face to LA fans, Brown went to China after being cut by the Lakers during preseason and proceeded to put up some jaw-dropping numbers, as marginal NBA players who head to China are want to do. He then returned to LA to play for the D-Fenders, but his season was cut short by injury. As he attempts a comeback, Brown has a chance to distinguish himself as the team could use another wing, although Brown's lack of positional versatility hurts him here. Nevertheless, Brown has the scoring chops to get noticed in this environment, especially with Luke's system and the general level of talent on this squad here to provide him with opportunities. Whether he will deign to pass to anyone this time around will certainly be one of the more underrated summer league storylines.

Moustapha Fall

Age Team (Country) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 Antibes (France) 10.8 6.8 0.8 72.6 0.00 39.0

As is the case with nearly any player over seven feet, the analysis of Fall begins and ends with his size, as his 7'2.5'' height in shoes and 9'7.5'' standing reach is superior even to fellow countryman Rudy Gobert. In at least a possible sign that he's not a complete stiff, Fall had fairly decent production last season for Antibes, one of the squads in France's top league, and his extreme accuracy around the basket despite a fairly robust usage rate is further indication of this. Even so, gigantic centers in Fall's mold have fallen by the wayside in recent years because how difficult it is for them to stay on the floor against smaller, quicker lineups, and the onus is on Fall to demonstrate that he can overcome this ingrained bias. Considering the depth this team has at center, it will be an especially upward battle for him to distinguish himself.

Trevor Lacey

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 Pesaro (N.C. State) 14.6 4.8 2.6 47.4 33.8 74.6

Lacey is one of the more interesting names on the back end of the roster, if only since he managed to set the Italian League on fire last season after going undrafted out of N.C. State. An undersized two guard -- 6'3'' with a 6'4'' wingspan according to measurements from five years ago -- Lacey is the prototypical tweener who usually is forced out of the NBA and finds success by going across the pond to Europe and elsewhere. The NBA has become more accommodating of players without a position that it previously disdained, but Lacey's issue of having a shooting guard's game in a point guard's body is still something that finds purchase nowadays. Still, if he's sufficiently productive and makes enough waves, he'll attract some looks, although he might struggle for playing time in an otherwise crowded guard rotation.

Xavier Munford

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 Grizzlies (Rhode Island) 5.7 1.6 2.2 41.6 39.1 50.0

One of the better performers on last season's Laker summer league squad, Munford rode a strong D-League season with Bakersfield to an NBA contract with the heavily injury-depleted Grizzlies, only losing his job this offseason after Memphis let him go to reunite with their former draftee in Tony Wroten. In the D-League, Munford managed to produce in all phases, putting up over 20 points per game on a near-60 percent true shooting percentage, aided in no small part by his massive improvement from behind the arc. This three-point accuracy, if not his overall efficiency, was something that continued during his stay in Memphis, albeit in a much smaller sample size.

As a result of actually having a cup of tea in the big leagues, Munford holds a bit more intrigue than several of the other options in the guard rotation, aided in no small part by being only one of two nominal point guards on the entire roster and thus likely slotted for more playing time. This might turn into a full-fledged starting position if Russell ever decides -- or more correctly, the coaching staff and/or the front office decide -- to leave the squad to prepare for his U.S. Select Team responsibilities, and while he might not have a spot on the Lakers to fight for considering the team's depth at point guard, he very well could find a new home somewhere in the league with a strong performance in Vegas.

Jamil Wilson

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
25 Legends (Marquette) 15.1 5.5 1.9 44.6 38.6 74.6

The D-League has become a much bigger aspect of each NBA organization's scouting and evaluation responsibilities, so the fact that the Lakers' summer league squad features several D-League veterans is unsurprising, Wilson of course being no exception here. Merely above average college players that would normally be a dime-a-dozen in previous eras are given an additional opportunity to hone their craft and distinguish themselves, and Wilson managed to do so with the Texas Legends, notably via significantly improving his overall scoring efficiency. The most direct application of that in the Vegas context will be his catch-and-shoot ability -- for which Wilson has a fantastic bow-and-arrow celebration -- as Wilson's primary utility will likely be spacing the floor for his more talented compatriots; whether he can do so well enough to be noticed for a spot at the next level might not be something commensurate with his likely role for the summer league Lakers.

Ethan Wragge

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
25 Giessen (Creighton) 4.7 1.4 0.3 42.5 42.9 80.0

Wragge holds the unfortunate distinction of being the probable Renaldo Woolridge candidate of this Lakers summer league squad, destined to ride the bench and cheer on his much more talented teammates as he awaits another gig somewhere overseas. To wit, Wragge profiles as an entirely ho hum wing who managed to carve out a career on the strength of what admittedly appears to be a quite decent outside shot, but lacks any other superlative characteristics that would enable him to catch on at the next level. His entirely tepid production throughout both his college and international career lends credence to this analysis, and it is unlikely that he could manage to crack a quite deep wing rotation on this team in a meaningful way.

Jarvis Varnado

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
28 Sassari (Mississippi State) 10.0 4.9 0.9 60.6 0.00 69.8

The unquestioned old man and veteran of the team, Varnado has been a journeyman ever since he was drafted in 2010, holding gigs abroad in Europe, the NBA, and the D-League, even collecting a championship ring during his stint with Miami in 2013. An undersized five with solid wingspan and reach, Varnado has staked a good portion of his utility on his rebounding and shot blocking, although he was never able to translate that production into a stay with any one team lasting longer than a year. As the most experienced member of the team, Varnado might see playing time as a helpful foil to an otherwise very young summer league squad, although with four players who likely deserve playing time at center throughout the team's time in Vegas, how the coaching staff works out this situation is uncertain. Indeed, that Varnado lacks the upside of his teammates could be treated as a black mark against him in this respect, depending how the rotation is prioritized.

***

The two stars of the squad appear to be fairly self-evident in Russell and Ingram, although both are members of the U.S. Select Team and could see their time in Vegas cut short if they feel it necessary to prepare elsewhere. This likely holds true more for the sophomore Russell than the rookie Ingram, the latter of whom probably will get as many reps in for his future team as humanly possible. Still, until that is the case, the starting group seems rather straightforward, with the rest of the projected rotation below:

Position Starters Bench Third String
PG D'Angelo Russell Xavier Munford --
SG Anthony Brown Jabari Brown Trevor Lacey
SF Brandon Ingram Jamil Wilson Ethan Wragge
PF Larry Nance, Jr. Zach Auguste Nikola Jovanovic
C Ivica Zubac Jarvis Varnado Moustapha Fall

The frontcourt rotation behind Nance and Zubac is a mismatch of guesswork, as Auguste, Varnado, and Fall all have arguments as to why they should see playing time, Auguste's being slightly stronger than the rest since he's the younger and superior prospect. Jovanovic's case is the weakest, as he doesn't bring upside (Auguste), physical tools (Fall), or experience (Varnado) to the table, and he very well could end up riding the pine for a good portion of summer league. The rest of the rotation is less contentious, Wragge being quite far behind Wilson in the talent totem pole, but Lacey could conceivably steal minutes away from Brown and find himself in a bigger role altogether if Russell leaves early.

Altogether, the potential for a member of the team past the starting lineup to make some hay and possibly join the Lakers for training camp shouldn't be completely discounted, but the parent team is sufficiently chock full of young players that this might be quite the uphill battle. With that in mind, several of these players are less playing for a spot on the Lakers and more for one on the D-Fenders, as the latter would have priority on any cuts from the Lakers' training camp. This turns most of the focus justifiably toward the Lakers' current prospects on their summer league team, and for as long as Russell and Ingram are present, it should be quite a show.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.