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Lakers Las Vegas Summer League Guide: The Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram Show

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With D’Angelo Russell traded away, the new standard bearers for Lakers basketball will share the court for the first time in Las Vegas alongside a highly talented supporting cast.

2017 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

During the Los Angeles Lakers’ most recent run of success, summer league was an afterthought, frequently consigned to the farthest reaches of fans’ awareness as the team trotted out a motley collection of very late draft picks, undrafted free agents, and journeymen. The Lakers’ 2012 team is almost comical to consider in hindsight since it assembled practically the entirety of the pre-Ryan West and Jesse Buss scouting regime’s drafting efforts from 2009 to 2012 and proceeded to get thrashed by an average margin of 21.4 points in five games.

Of course, Lakers fans didn’t have much to complain about during that era, winning two titles and seemingly appearing on the verge of acquiring more after trading for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The latter leaving, however, exposed the Lakers’ utterly bare cupboard of young talent and brought far more focus onto the necessities of what was going to be a long rebuilding process.

Four years removed from that moment, we are now nearing what may be the end of the rebuilding process at least insofar as stockpiling young talent goes, as Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka seek to repackage the previous regime’s hunt for stars with a newfound focus on the 2018 crop, notably sacrificing D’Angelo Russell, arguably the most promising young player on the team other than perhaps Lonzo Ball, to pursue this endeavor. As a result, this current team is another culmination so-to-speak of drafting proceeds as was the case in 2012, bringing together the team’s most recent top draft picks and representing the groundwork of what Magic and Pelinka likely hope is an able supporting cast for their 2018 star acquisitions.

And whatever you think of the reasonableness of Magic and Pelinka’s star hunt, this is a tremendously talented roster by summer league standards, assembling a pair of top-2 selections, four other drafted players, and a panoply of top G-League talent and recent undrafted free agents, nearly all of whom would be interesting options for camp invites or two-way contracts. Even if it hasn’t translated into a winning team yet, the Lakers’ scouting staff has done quite solid work in mining talent in areas previously neglected by the front office and this offers a helpful note of optimism for the future however 2018 free agency goes.

The 2017 summer league team will thus offer us our earliest look into Magic and Pelinka’s vision for the Lakers, in no small part because of who they just selected second overall in the draft and anointed as the future leader of the team, but also since an awful lot rides on this young group translating in order to both attract and maximize the returns from whatever stars happen to come.

As in previous years, we will review the team player-by-player, starting first with the recent draft picks, then onto the sophomores, undrafted free agents, and all other players. Without further ado:

THE ROOKIES (DRAFTED)

Lonzo Ball

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
19 UCLA (Freshman) 14.6 6 7.6 55.1 41.2 67.3

Measurements (Listed)

Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
N/A 6'6'' 190 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

There might not be another player on the Lakers’ roster more important to their future prospects than Ball, who has to be both the glue that brings together a disparate and sometimes ill-fitting group of players as well as the engine that powers the team toward success on the offensive end. He managed to fill both roles at UCLA with aplomb, reviving a moribund program and firmly entrenching himself into the greater imagination of Los Angeles before LaVar Ball apparently willed his son’s ascension to the Lakers into existence.

And we will get our first view of how Ball will apply himself in a NBA context in Vegas, as he’ll almost certainly be given the keys to the kingdom to run the team how he sees fit. He should also benefit from a capable supporting cast of secondary playmakers to work off ball next to as well as capable pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop partners for when he has the ball, so we’ll get a nice early picture of the degree to which both Ball’s collegiate strengths (secondary playmaking, cutting, spot-up shooting, transition work) and foibles (pick-and-roll play, isolation work, in-between game, defense against point of attack) will translate.

The pace of summer league should ameliorate a good deal of Ball’s weaknesses, as he’ll be given loads of opportunities to speed things up and make reads against defenses that are not set. But nevertheless, Ball in the halfcourt with the ball in his hands will be perhaps the most important thing to parse during his time in Vegas, as his ability to work in the pick-and-roll (caveats about how UCLA’s scheme limited and changed how he worked as a pick-and-roll operator notwithstanding) and otherwise perform traditional point guard roles will be critical in assessing his ceiling and success at the next level.

Ball defensively will be tough thing to evaluate in a summer league environment, but the Lakers’ Vegas squad has enough combo guard types that we should be able to see how Ball performs against both guard positions. The thought before the Russell trade was that Ball would spend more time checking wings and this might still be the case, although now we will now get to test whether Ball’s excellent off ball defensive instincts or point of attack weaknesses will predominate against NBA athletes.

Altogether, this is Ball’s show: he’ll play a huge role in the team’s success since he’ll be so intimately involved in everything the team does, and if the Lakers end up with the summer league title Ball covets, he likely will have excited Laker fans quite a bit along the way.

Thomas Bryant

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
19 Indiana (Sophomore) 12.6 6.6 1.5 51.9 38.3 73

Measurements (Combine)

Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
6'9.5'' 6.10.75'' 248 7'6'' 25.5'' 33'' 9'4.5'' 11.42 3.37

Bryant is an interesting case study in how much stock you put into the profile of a player rather than the player himself, as the notion of a center who can shoot threes and defend the rim with a 7’6’’ wingspan falling to 42nd feels quite incongruous. Then you take a closer look and see a guy who was only a so-so rebounder despite that size and length (13.7 TRB%), didn’t demonstrate good court vision or feel for the game (18.0 TOV%), and had issues in space defensively due to being stiff and lacking explosion.

In his corner, however, is the fact that he’s just about to turn 20, making him quite young for a sophomore (fellow rookie Ball is only roughly two months older despite being a freshman). Add in better guard play that Bryant lacked during his sophomore year due to All-Rookie performer Yogi Ferrell leaving Indiana in 2016 and there’s reason to think that Bryant will benefit significantly from both more development and having superior guard play to put him into his spots.

The Lakers’ deep center rotation in Vegas might also prove a blessing for Bryant, as he’ll likely be able to work for shorter stretches in which he can exert maximum effort and put to rest some of the motor concerns surrounding his game. Doing yeoman’s work on the glass and in blocking shots will help as well in this respect, as these are the most straightforward ways for him to bring his size and length into play.

Of course, Bryant was drafted primarily for the intrigue of offering shooting at the five and he’ll have to indicate that his college numbers (37.3 3P% on 75 attempts in two years as well as a 71.8 FT%) are capable of translating in an NBA setting. For a guy who will probably spend the grand majority of the year in the G-League, a solid Vegas performance will help to ensure he isn’t merely an afterthought for the Lakers’ front office moving forward.

Josh Hart

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
22 Villanova (Senior) 18.7 6.4 2.9 51 40.4 74.7

Measurements (Combine)

Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
6'3.75'' 6'5'' 209 6'8.25'' 27.5'' 35.5'' 8'5'' 11.15 3.18

Whereas Bryant is a study of profile over production, Hart is the complete opposite, bringing a near-immaculate statistical resume and multiple years of high level play on one of the country’s best collegiate squads to the fore. This all comes in the form of a wing who is relatively bland from a physical perspective, possessing serviceable length, quickness, and athleticism that was nevertheless maximized while at Villanova in basically any category you can imagine (three consecutive years of a 10+ BPM come to mind).

As one might expect from that profile, the biggest question with Hart is how much of his offensive production can translate at the next level when his lack of explosion will limit his creation ability. He was a very good finisher in college, but might not be able to get there consistently with an average first step and not a great deal of shiftiness off the bounce or creativity with his dribble or otherwise.

The easiest way for him to overcome this would be to utilize his shooting (40.4 3P% his senior year on 5.1 attempts per game, 38.9% his entire collegiate career) to create driving lanes for himself and gain credibility as a secondary creator. And the caveats above about his first step notwithstanding, Hart is a half-decent driver once he gets a head of steam and is able to get downhill against opposing defenses.

The Lakers’ summer league roster will also afford Hart plenty of opportunities to check both wing positions, and proving that he is serviceable here would aid his NBA prospects quite a bit since his physical tools point to a somewhat mono-positional defender, not a great thing in an increasingly position-diverse league. Here, Hart checks all of the requisite boxes for coach cliches (tough, competitive, good fundamentals, and so forth) and was notably a plus rebounder for a guard throughout his college career (career 12.0 TRB%) even if Villanova’s heavy switching scheme frequently put him in a position to get boards.

All in all, Hart will have to find his niche at the next level after more or less being a star in college and he certainly has enough tools (shooting, rebounding, defense) to eke out one that might keep him in the league for a decade. Insofar as this affects the Lakers’ Vegas squad, there certainly are enough ball handlers for Hart to work off ball primarily, but one hopes that he’s capable of more versatility as a secondary creator that could pay dividends for a group currently bereft of good ones in the Lakers’ parent team.

Kyle Kuzma

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
21 Utah (Junior) 16.4 9.3 2.4 50.4 32.1 66.9

Measurements (Combine)

Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
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'' 223 7'0.25'' 27'' 34'' 8'11.5'' 10.72 3.25

Kuzma was by far the most quizzical of the four choices the Lakers made on draft night, not filling any clear need with multiple players slotted ahead of him in the power forward rotation nor appearing to be the best player available on the board such that the rotation glut he created could be absolved. In this sense, he has a lot to prove in summer league since he has to demonstrate why he deserves to stick on the roster in lieu of any of the other options at the four, contract situations and such notwithstanding.

This will have to start with the two areas in which Kuzma intrigued but didn’t necessarily show top-tier proficiency in his shooting and perimeter defense, both of which are not present in any significant amount among the frontcourt rotation of the parent team. The shooting in particular is important since it sets up the vast majority of Kuzma’s offensive game, as being able to turn attacking closeouts into a strength also opens up his passing chops.

There’s some optimism here since Kuzma finished the year shooting 40.7% from three in his last ten games, but if Kuzma can hang his hat on anything, it’s his passing, which was pretty solid for a four man (15.2 AST%). Combined with a solid handle, this gives Kuzma an interesting package with the ball in his hands, although Kuzma was a dismal shooter off the dribble throughout his career at Utah, something that might limit his overall creation ability.

Going back to his perimeter defense, Kuzma is among the quicker bigs on the roster, showing that he’s capable of sticking with guards on switches, needless to say a vital skill in the modern NBA. He didn’t really pair this with any sort of superlative rim protection chops at Utah, however, and his effort and awareness often waned; his relatively poor steal and block rates for a third-year player aren’t great signs for projecting potential on this end.

The biggest thing for Kuzma ultimately is dispelling the skeptics somewhat analogously to how Larry Nance Jr. managed to do so in 2015, the irony being that Kuzma will have to do so with a game that resembles Julius Randle’s far more than Nance’s. There certainly is room for Kuzma to carve out a role if he can show that his late season and combine shooting was real and transferable and his quickness on both ends could fit the ethos that the team wants to achieve.

THE SOPHOMORES

Brandon Ingram

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
19 Lakers (Duke) 9.4 4 2.1 40.2 29.4 62.1

Past Ball, no young player on the roster has more pressure on his shoulders than Ingram, whose continued presence on the roster, including a rather striking “untouchable” assertion from Magic, in lieu of Russell has to be considered a rather glaring sign of the front office’s faith in him. And for that faith to be vindicated, Ingram will have to show tremendous improvement on what was on the whole a terrible rookie season that had somewhat of a redemption arc after the All-Star game (13.2/3.9/2.5), albeit still on mediocre efficiency (51.7 TS%).

The biggest issue for Ingram is figuring out a way to translate his top flight shooting at Duke to the pros, as his game opens up tremendously with it, a consistent theme you’ll have noted at this point for these players who don’t possess the overwhelming athleticism required to overcome not exerting significant gravity. It is a point in Ingram’s favor, however, that the most notable sign of his post-All-Star break mini-breakout was him managing to utilize his drive game much more despite wretched shooting from behind the arc, as an improved first step and deceptive speed (long striders can substitute this for their athleticism in some cases) allowed him to get to the rim much more.

Should Ingram flash shooting in addition to the drive game, his playmaking chops will also be given room to improve, something Luke Walton attempted to nurture at several points last season to inconsistent results. A lot of the intrigue around Ingram coming out of college was the possibility of him running the pick-and-roll capably at his size, something that could come to fruition if he’s able to pair all of the aforementioned things together.

Defensively, Ingram went through the usual rookie problems here, plagued by poor awareness and a strength deficit due to a twig frame, and probably doesn’t have the instincts or quickness to be a top-flight defender long-term although he certainly could be above average as an off ball chaos creator with his length. Assuming he’s put on some strength, summer league will be an interesting opportunity for him to show whether he’s capable of manning both forward spots and showing some versatility here could help accelerate would could be an eventual move toward being a more full-time four.

At the end of his time in Vegas though, the words we should be hearing to describe Ingram’s performance should be along the lines of “impressive,” “eye-opening,” and perhaps a few “dominant” mentions thrown in for flavor. As a second-year player so highly touted, Ingram needs to show that he’s made significant progress down his development curve, even with his age and physical development as caveats, and indicate that he’s on pace to be part of the Lakers’ foundation moving forward.

David Nwaba

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 Lakers (Cal Poly) 6 3.1 0.7 58 20 64.1

Nwaba’s journey to the NBA has been nothing short of storybook, starting with junior college and including a D-League tryout as well as parlaying a 10-day contract into a multi-year NBA deal with his hometown team. He will now find himself as one of the proverbial veterans on a deep summer league squad and has the opportunity to cement his place in a shallow wing rotation on the parent team with a strong Vegas performance.

This starts principally with Nwaba’s defense, his calling card in the D-League that even managed to make inroads on the NBA level (+0.59 DRPM) in a limited sample size. Despite being only 6’4’’ or so, Nwaba leverages excellent wingspan and superlative athleticism to be effective on and off the ball against several positions; we have not yet quite borne out his defensive range in the NBA but his D-League exploits included guarding everyone from the one to the four.

The big question for Nwaba to address will be his offensive play, as he’s at the moment more of a junkyard dog on offense getting points on cuts and putbacks, only able to utilize a decent handle on drives from time to time because of his complete lack of outside shooting chops. Showing any signs of life here will be important in assessing his long-term future, as well as showing that he’s somewhat capable in getting the ball to his teammates, sporting a poor AST% in both his D-League and NBA play.

The chaotic and open conditions of summer league might help out Nwaba here, as he’ll no doubt he a recipient of several alley-oop passes from the numerous playmakers on the roster and he’ll certainly shine in transition with and without the ball. But locking in on defense would make him a welcome counterpoint to the often lackadaisical play teams demonstrate on this end and might make the most impact on the relevant decision makers in the front office if he pairs this with some offensive improvement.

Ivica Zubac

Statistics

Age Team (Country) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (Country) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
20 Lakers (Croatia) 7.5 4.2 0.8 52.9 0 65.3

The surprising adeptness Zubac showed on offense last summer league took a while to find its way to the NBA, as he toiled in the D-League for most of last season but eventually found an opportunity to show his chops on the parent team when the tank went into overdrive. He certainly flashed a lot more skill than we normally associate with 20-year-olds on this end, offering intrigue as both a pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop threat with a soft touch on hook shots and a respectable shooting stroke respectively, as well as presenting instances of advanced awareness as a short roll passer.

Skyhook potential aside, Zubac also used his touch, size, and length to establish himself as a post threat, a useful skill to have in a downsizing league that fields fewer and fewer traditional centers. On this note, Zubac especially turned heads with some three-point proficiency in the D-League, hitting 4-11 (36.4%) from behind the arc, and adding this to his arsenal would greatly expand his overall utility as a pick-and-pop threat; new Laker Brook Lopez is an especially useful touchstone for what Zubac could become here.

Zubac had less success defensively, as while he has decent short range quickness as a rim protector, he has a long way to go in learning how to defend in space and his relatively plodding nature necessitates drop back defense in checking the pick-and-roll. He could also stand to improve on the boards some, as a guy of his length and size should be cleaning up the glass more than he manages to do.

Summer league is usually unkind to more traditional centers, as guards hunt for their points in lieu of feeding their bigs the ball, but Zubac managed to overcome this tendency last summer and should benefit from a more pass happy corps of guards led by Ball this time around. With Tarik Black gone, Zubac is the prohibitive favorite to get the backup center spot behind Lopez and can all but cement his role by showing progress on both ends in Vegas.

THE ROOKIES (UNDRAFTED)

P.J. Dozier

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
20 South Carolina (Sophomore) 13.9 4.8 2.8 40.7 29.8 59.7

Measurements (Combine)

Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
6'5.25'' 6'6.75'' 201 6'11'' 34'' 39'' 8'5'' 10.84 3.15

The best work the Lakers’ new front office did on draft night was arguably not with any of their draft selections but in picking up Dozier, a legitimate NBA talent who likely went undrafted because of long-term injury concerns (read: not having an ACL). But as a UDFA, he’s a rock solid addition because of the low risk involved, although he’ll have to make a notable impact to distinguish himself in a deep guard rotation on the Lakers’ Vegas team.

Dozier’s intrigue begins with his physical package and how it helps him defensively, as he pairs solid quickness and athleticism with superb measurements for a guard at either spot. He can smother ball handlers with his length at the point of attack, is an active threat in the passing lanes, and did good work as a rebounder for a guard (9.5 TRB%); his work here along with Clippers draftee Sindarius Thornwell was a key driver of South Carolina’s surprising Final Four run this past season.

For how enamoring Dozier is defensively, however, he produces plenty skeptics on the other end, as he’s a very poor perimeter shooter with a largely underdeveloped offensive game. He does show serviceable court vision from time to time (22.8 AST%) despite being very turnover happy (12.8 TOV%), but he essentially will have to build his offensive game from scratch at the next level starting with getting some semblance of an outside shot.

Despite these worries, you should shoot for lottery tickets with undrafted free agents and Dozier is no exception here. As with Nwaba, the uptempo and unstructured nature of summer league play should help Dozier quite a bit in smoothing the holes in his offensive game, and we will see if his defensive and passing package is sufficient to earn him a camp invite and one of the Lakers’ first ever two-way contracts.

Matt Thomas

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
22 Iowa State (Senior) 12.3 3.9 1.7 47.7 44.5 89.1

Measurements (Listed)

Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
Height w/o shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Vertical (no-step) Vertical (max) Standing reach Lane agility 3/4 court sprint
N/A 6'4'' 197 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Thomas is safely the most unheralded player on the Lakers’ entire Vegas roster, although to his credit, he holds little in common with the non-prospect flotsam who have usually occupied the bottom reaches of the roster in past years (cough) Renaldo Wooldridge (cough). A four-year senior at Iowa State, Thomas hung his hat on top-shelf outside shooting, hitting 43.2% and 44.5% from behind the arc during his junior and senior years respectively on nearly six attempts per game each season.

This unfortunately appears to be the upper limit of Thomas’ transferable NBA skills, as he wasn’t much of a creator for his teammates (career 8.3 AST%), which paired with fairly low usage and turnover rates points to a profile as a highly efficient but specialized off ball shooter. His fairly slight frame and height for a guard in addition to mediocre steal and block rates also doesn’t portend great things for him defensively, as he’s likely a mono-positional defender who will struggle to check his own spot.

Still, there are certainly worse end-of-the-bench choices out there and Thomas has the skill set to fill a particular role and be effective should ever called upon to perform in spot minutes. The notion that he offers anything for the Lakers’ parent roster is more or less nonexistent, but he certainly could be a fine option for the South Bay Lakers next season.

THE REST

Vander Blue

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 D-Fenders (Marquette) 24.8 5.1 3 43.5 35.1 80.7

The reigning D-League MVP, Blue has been a mainstay for the Lakers’ D-League affiliate for the past three seasons, earning a brief cup of tea with the parent club very late in the 2015 season due to a swath of injuries devastating the team’s rotation. Since then, he’s been unable to find a foothold in the league, instead forming one of the D-League’s best backcourts with recent Hawks signee Josh Magette in Los Angeles.

Blue was a prolific scorer at the D-League level, putting up huge scoring totals each season (from 2014 onward: 23.3, 26.3, 24.8 PPG) with solid efficiency (55.8, 56.0, 56.9 TS%) despite carrying a significant offensive load (25.2, 28.5, 27.9 USG%) for the D-Fenders each night. His most recent adaptation was to increase his proficiency at getting to the line, attempting a career high 9.6 free throw attempts per game, although his passing chops have unfortunately declined from year-to-year, partly due to Magette pushing him more off ball.

As several of the top perimeter scorers are wont to do in an uptempo and free flowing D-League environment, however, Blue has been a fairly nonchalant defender and his so-so size and mono-positional nature don’t help here. He’s certainly not an incapable defender when the need strikes, showing some ball-hawking talent, but he was rarely relied upon to be a difference maker here, especially when Nwaba was on the squad.

Insofar as his role on the Lakers’ Vegas squad is concerned, this is a hard one to pin down since the team doesn’t really possess another explosive scorer on Blue’s level, thus enabling other members of the guard rotation to play off him, but he could end up being lost in the mix because of how many other guards likely warrant playing time. Still only 24, there certainly is time for Blue to work his way onto a NBA team; the difficulty in projecting D-League scorers who don’t defend nor pass well at that level probably doesn’t help his case, however, and complicates how much run he’ll get with the Lakers here.

Alec Brown

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 WC Bulls (Green Bay) 10.7 5.2 0.9 47.6 36.4 81

Brown’s main issue in Vegas will be one of opportunity, as his only route to playing time at the five is blocked by two Laker draft picks in Zubac and Bryant, both of whom could use the development reps. While Brown is a superior three-point threat to both of them at this point, hitting 36.4% on three attempts per game in the D-League this past season, he doesn’t project as a good enough prospect to push Zubac or Bryant for playing time unless the coaching staff rests one of the two or plays a two-center lineup from time to time.

In another situation, Brown would be a more interesting option due to the aforementioned shooting chops and the way in which he has managed to successfully develop in two years in the D-League, drastically improving as a player in basically every facet in his transition from Bakersfield to Chicago. He still remains a very poor rebounder for a center (11.9 TRB%), however, a problem that dates back to his college days, although he still displays the rim protection chops (6.6 BLK%) he had at Green Bay.

Most back-of-the-rotation players end up on the court at some point during summer league if only as a favor from management to agents, although again, Brown would probably deserve playing time if not for a highly poor situation for him with the Lakers’ Vegas group. As with Thomas, Laker fans should largely only be interested in Brown as a possible option for the South Bay Lakers.

Alex Caruso

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Blue (Texas A&M) 11.9 3.9 5.2 45.9 40.1 74.9

Likely the most interesting player on the Lakers’ summer league roster not drafted by the team or named Dozier, Caruso also probably has the strongest shot of being someone of interest to the parent team moving forward as a capable guard who can run an offense and defend ably. A fairly big combo guard, Caruso played on and off ball during his Texas A&M career and proved capable in both respects, averaging a 32.9 AST% at A&M (25.7 AST% in the D-League) while also improving to 40.1% from behind the arc on three attempts per game as a member of the OKC Blue.

Although capable offensively, Caruso mainly interests from a NBA perspective as a defender, translating his solid ball hawking skills at A&M (career 4.3 STL%) to the D-League (3.5 STL%), and he combines good hands, respectable lateral quickness, and solid instincts with a frame that is solid for a point guard (6’5.5’’ in shoes), albeit a bit short-armed for a two (6’5.5’’ wingspan). The jury is certainly still out on whether this will translate to the NBA proper, but Caruso has shown sufficient signs throughout college and in the D-League that he is at least capable here.

This type of player would be highly valuable to the Lakers’ parent roster and the same calculus largely applies with the Vegas roster, as someone who can both initiate the offense and work off ball is an ideal fit next to Ball. Caruso will have to contend with a crowded guard rotation and likely need to put together some superlative performances to stand out among the crowd, but at the moment, he appears to one of the more worthwhile players to keep track of outside of the Lakers’ own picks.

Travis Wear

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
26 D-Fenders (UCLA) 12.7 7.2 1 43.3 34.2 70.8

Wear came home last season to play in his hometown for the D-Fenders, coming in behind Justin Harper in the rotation and ultimately proving a capable D-League player, although not one that offered much intrigue at the next level. The principal problem was Wear’s inferiority to Harper as a shooter and lacking the latter’s ability to move up to the five diminished his ability to get more headway on the team until Harper was called up by the Sixers.

Having dealt with the Wear brothers for several years, what Wear offers on the court is apparent to most UCLA fans, as he’ll scrap on both ends, shoot midrange shots, and not turn the ball over. Trying to incorporate the three into his arsenal in the D-League was a worthy goal in an effort to interest teams as a stretch four, but the results were middling (34.2 3P%) and his overall efficiency (53.0 TS%) left much to be desired.

As compared to the other somewhat marginal options on the Lakers’ Vegas team, Wear has the advantage of his position of choice at the four only being otherwise occupied by Kuzma, so he might get playing time by sheer virtue of the only nominal option there and will likely be serviceable in that role due to his ability to space the floor. The number of decent options at the guard spots and Nwaba and Ingram’s ability to move up a spot might test this presumption though, as Luke Walton’s proclivity for small lineups might end up the norm in Vegas.

Gabe York

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Bayhawks (Arizona) 15.8 4.2 3.7 43.6 36.1 83.7

There likely has not been a friendlier time for 6’3’’ combo guards in the modern NBA than as of late courtesy of the predilection toward smallball, but primarily scoring combo guards who are not prolific shot makers still have a tough time and this largely applies to York. To be sure, York’s numbers certainly weren’t bad with the Bayhawks in the D-League, as 15.8 points per game on a 56.0 TS% while sporting a 20.9 USG% is certainly more than serviceable and he displayed enough passing skills (18.4 AST%) to support the notion he could work on and off ball.

The problem here is that York simply doesn’t have a superlative trait that elevates him over other members of the guard rotation, as the other non-drafted options eclipse him in shooting (Caruso, Thomas), playmaking (Caruso, Dozier), scoring (Blue), and defense (Caruso, Dozier) (mind you, Caruso being repeated here multiple times should say a lot about him). Perhaps the overall package intrigues the coaching staff and as with Brown, the seemingly marginal guys tend to have their day in the sun over the course of summer league.

Again going with the Brown comparison, York probably would merit playing time should the rotation at his position not be so crowded, but a loaded team requires forcing good options to the sidelines. It wouldn’t be outlandish for York to earn a role over one of the aforementioned names, as these rotations are occasionally idiosyncratic, but at the moment, it appears rather unlikely.

***

This has been a bit of a tired refrain over the last few years and the team has perpetually disappointed (Mark Madsen’s coaching, the letdown last year versus Cleveland come to mind) in this respect, but it is especially true this season: the Lakers’ summer league team is stacked, perhaps even more so than in past years. Guys like York, Brown, and Blue usually aren’t considered afterthoughts on summer league rotations and this is in no small part due to how strong the contingent from the parent team is.

A look at the projected rotation brings this into focus:

Projected Rotation

Positions Starters Bench Third String Fourth String
Positions Starters Bench Third String Fourth String
PG Lonzo Ball Alex Caruso Gabe York --
SG Josh Hart P.J. Dozier Vander Blue Matt Thomas
SF Brandon Ingram David Nwaba -- --
PF Kyle Kuzma Travis Wear -- --
C Ivica Zubac Thomas Bryant Alec Brown --

Put simply, the Lakers’ reserves in Caruso, Dozier, Nwaba, Wear, and Bryant would be a suitable starting summer league lineup in most years, and they probably thrash any Lakers Vegas group from 2012 or before. The guard rotation is definitely a collection of guesswork, as Blue or York could have much bigger roles than this projection suggests, but Dozier’s potential and Caruso’s solid two-way play should earn them the lion’s share of minutes over the course of the team’s time here.

But in the end, the show belongs to Ball and Ingram, who will be at the heart of the team’s play, and the rest of the squad is more or less along for the ride despite there being intrigue on the roster from top to bottom. We simply can’t overemphasize how important it is for both Ball and Ingram to demonstrate high level play, if not outright excellence, in this setting, as it has major implications for how the parent team will perform not only next season, but going forward into what Magic and Pelinka have made an incredibly critical 2018 free agent summer.

Summer league in past years has been a chance to decompress and observe the Lakers’ future after the front office disappointed in free agency, whether through stars passing on the team (Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge) or unwise signings (Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng). With the Russell trade and the implications it creates for 2018, however, the added pressure in unavoidable in this context, and we’ll soon see whether the decision by Magic and Pelinka to invest their hope into Ball and Ingram as the flag bearers for a young squad angling for top tier talent next offseason was justified.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.