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Lakers Summer League Preview: Get to know the roster that will be heading to Las Vegas and Sacramento

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The Lakers will take part in NBA Summer League in both Las Vegas and Sacramento, so it’s worth checking in on who will make up their roster, and who are the real prospects to watch.

Los Angeles Lakers Introduce 2018 Draft Picks Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

There has been a palpable sea change in the overall fortunes of the Los Angeles Lakers. Between the team having its most successful season of the current rebuilding era and righting the ship via a historical free agent frenzy to rival even that of 1996, there is now a fascinating backdrop for what might be the most unheralded summer league squad to take the court for the Lakers in years.

Time and time again over the past few Julys, summer league was the refuge for Lakers fans from the team’s free agency woes, as it offered respite in the form of highly touted lottery picks who would take the first steps of their nascent careers in Las Vegas and attempt to prove that they were the standard bearers for a new era of Lakers basketball.

And in no case was this more apparent than the 2017 team, which not only won the summer league title but did so with aplomb on the backs of yet another hyped top-two pick (Lonzo Ball), a supposed first round reach who demonstrated the effectiveness of the Laker scouting apparatus’ iconoclasm (Kyle Kuzma), and most importantly, a prematurely balding G League pickup who outplayed a lottery pick and earned the team’s inaugural two-way contract (Alex Caruso). The bad feelings engendered by the D’Angelo Russell trade and the team’s seeming unwillingness to learn from past mistakes in pursuing top free agents to the exclusion of other approaches were, at least the moment, swept away by the exhilaration of the team’s victory.

In 2018, there will be no such refuge or overshadowing of free agency, as LeBron Jamesmomentous signing, Paul George’s refusal of the call, and Kawhi Leonard’s ongoing trade saga will overshadow anything the Lakers do in Las Vegas or Sacramento, whether this group takes home a consecutive title or loses ignominiously in the first playoff round.

Aside from the obviously outsized effect free agency has on the Lakers’ future, it also has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first Laker summer league team since 2013 to not feature a lottery pick, and thus represents a significantly smaller overall import on the Lakers’ future.

The flip side of that coin is that this is year two of the Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka regime and year three of Luke Walton’s coaching tenure, so the team is blessed with a far more well-defined identity of what they value on and off the court, free agency fortunes notwithstanding, so the applicability of the performance of the individual players here to their future on the team will be correspondingly more apparent.

How well these players, for instance, can get up and down, work within a heavy switching defense, and perhaps most of all, shoot from range will be a few of the items to closely track within the coming weeks.

As has been the case in past years, we will review the players individually, grouped alphabetically by drafted rookies, sophomores, undrafted rookies, and the remainder of the team:

THE ROOKIES (DRAFTED)

Isaac Bonga

Statistics

Age Team (Country) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (Country) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
18 Fraport Skyliners (Germany) 7.4 3.4 2.4 43.1 30.2 90.0

Measurements

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 6'8.75'' 200 6'11.75'' N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Bonga is the proverbial man of mystery this season, coming into Vegas with far less exposure for the vast majority of Lakers fans than the upperclassmen the Lakers drafted with their other picks, so gauging where he is in his development will be a welcome experience. And while Bonga very well might surprise in an open, chaotic summer league environment that fits well with his skill set, the likely takeaway will be how far he is away from a physical standpoint from actually contributing in a Lakers uniform, something the Lakers are hardly unfamiliar with in 18-year-old promising wing prospects courtesy of Brandon Ingram.

To be sure, there is quite a bit on the skill side that intrigues with Bonga, as he pairs a decent handle for a 6’9’’ forward with solid court vision and some pick-and-roll operator capacity, showing some preternatural instincts for his age with his ability to anticipate the defense and pass on the move. His first step at the moment is not terribly exceptional but he compensates like Brandon Ingram, with long strides that allow him to cover a lot of space on his drives. There’s also a very interesting drive-and-kick package there as a result if he continues developing physically.

Therein, of course, lies the problem since Bonga is a baby physically with a super-thin frame that results in him getting knocked off his spots at will on both ends, compromising what could otherwise could be a quite interesting defensive player because of his length and decent feet. The Ingram comparison also departs with respect to their shooting, as whereas Ingram was an efficient volume three-point shooter at Duke, Bonga has significant mechanical flaws that he will need to iron out to be a threat in spot-up situations, let alone off the dribble, although hitting over 90% of his free throws is a welcome sign in that respect.

Insofar as his Vegas performance – as the Bonga trade cannot be announced until July 6 and he’ll almost certainly miss the Sacramento summer league as a result – is concerned, the most important thing for Bonga to do is show flashes of the player he could possibly turn into over the course of the next two to three years as he awaits his chance to cross the pond and join the Lakers proper.

This does mean that there’s significantly less pressure on Bonga to contribute as versus say Svi and Wagner, both of whom have to fight for rotation spots in the short term, but given the structure of the team and Bonga’s point forward intrigue, he’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities to show his playmaking chops in Vegas.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
20 Kansas (Senior) 14.6 3.9 2.7 43.4 44.4 74.7

Measurements

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
6'6.5'' 6'7.75'' 212 6'4.75'' 30.5'' 37'' 8'4'' 11.25 3.18

There are few draft choices that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have given their imprimatur to in recent years that have signified their devotion to shooting more than Svi, a prospect whose biggest issue is proving that he has enough in his cupboard to be useful in areas other than shooting.

To be sure, the shooting is not an unimportant factor and Svi is quite good in that respect in a general sense, hitting 40.9% of his threes over the course of his college career, including 44.4% on 259 attempts as a senior.

Ironically, Svi’s not quite a good enough shooter in ways that allow other players to be primarily off ball specialists in a way that Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick are, running off screens and using off ball movement to consistently free themselves up, so he’s going to need to compensate in other ways on offense.

In European play, he did this via providing a bit of playmaking and pick-and-roll work, something that went by the wayside at Kansas between his lack of physical readiness earlier in his career and the presence of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham later in his career; although he did show the ability to attack closeouts and get downhill, albeit without a ton of success finishing at the rim.

And on the other end of the court, Svi’s always going to have to overcome the perception that he’s going to be challenged defensively because he’s a negative wingspan player (his wingspan in this case being three inches shorter than his height) and does not possess exceptional vertical or lateral athleticism to help compensate here. To his credit, he frequently had to switch against bigger players at Kansas because their best lineups often involved several guards, and he held his own thanks to a healthy dose of tenacity and toughness but it’s incumbent on him to show that this will continue at the next level.

Of all of the players on the Lakers’ summer league team, Svi arguably has the most to prove since his performance in Sacramento and Vegas very well could determine whether he has a roster spot to start the upcoming season on the parent team, the South Bay Lakers, or, drawing on his European ties, an overseas team to refine his game. The combination of his spot-up shooting and defensive switching potential should be enough to get him over the hump for the parent team, but showing more than that, especially some nascent playmaking ability, can only help his case here.

Moritz Wagner

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
21 Michigan (Junior) 14.6 7.1 0.8 52.8 39.4 69.4

Measurements

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
6'10.5'' 6'11.5'' 241 7'0'' 27'' 34'' 9'0'' 11.48 3.18

Unlike Svi, Wagner gets the benefit of a guaranteed contract to work with to ensure his place on the Lakers proper, but he faces the task of proving that his college game can translate in a way that’s useful enough to earn him a rotation spot, especially in light of Thomas Bryant’s absence.

This quest starts and ends with Wagner’s spacing chops as a big, hitting a rock solid 38.5% of his threes over the course of his college career on 286 attempts, and essentially Wagner’s entire offensive identity is derived from his ability to be a threat from behind the arc.

The paramount reason is that his shooting dovetails very nicely with his handle, an unusually strong offering from a big, something that allows him to easily attack closeouts, beat slower footed fives off the dribble, and even offer some playmaking off the dribble after he penetrates into the opposing defense.

Combined with his deft footwork and ability to seamlessly pop or roll after setting a pick, Wagner has quite a bit in his toolbox to utilize on offense and can add a ton of value to lineups as the stretch five in five-out lineups.

As mentioned, this all depends on Wagner’s shot translating, as he lacks the strength at the moment to establish himself on the block consistently and can get pushed off his spots near the rim when he is not attacking a closeout or a slower footed big. This surfeit of strength also shortchanges his defensive value because it limits Wagner’s ability to check opposing fives in post defense and limits the benefit of Wagner’s respectable feet in hard hedging and, theoretically, defending straight-up in space on switches, although to his credit, Wagner does compete well on the boards despite this strength deficit.

There are enough serviceable playmakers on the Lakers’ summer league squad that Wagner should get no shortage of good spots to show his chops offensively, and without Bryant, he’ll have every opportunity to prove his worth as a center, the most likely position where he could earn playing time next season. Certain matchups might challenge Wagner’s wherewithal as a rim protector (not helped by a so-so 7’0’’ wingspan) and post defender, but a good showing in that respect along with the offensive contributions he brought in college should be more than sufficient to leave an impression.

THE SOPHOMORES

Alex Caruso

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 Lakers (Texas A&M) 3.6 1.8 2 43.1 30.2 70.0

Caruso is a healthy reminder that summer league is as much a hazard as it is an opportunity, as there are two diametrically different paths that he could tread upon depending on his performance this season: the brighter path is getting his two-way contract converted and seizing what is right now a wide open backup point guard slot behind Lonzo Ball, and the darker one is losing his two-way spot outright to a more promising up-and-comer. Between his rock-solid G League performance and his play last summer, however, we can likely prognosticate a fair amount of success for Caruso, who stands relatively unchallenged on top of the Lakers’ summer league point guard rotation.

The biggest hump for Caruso to overcome is to show that the aggressiveness he showed on offense in the G League is applicable to the parent team, because whether as a result of a lack of consistent playing time, rhythm, or otherwise, Caruso was often alarmingly passive as an initiator and it shortchanged his ability to act as a playmaker for others.

Not helping things was the disappearance of what had been a very consistent 3-point shot at the G League level (career 39.5% on 263 attempts), something that further rendered him fairly toothless on offense in the NBA.

With Hart only being a limited participant in summer league, Caruso will no doubt be called upon to be the proverbial floor general the majority of the time, so he’ll have every opportunity to show that he deserves a shot to earn real minutes with the parent team.

Should this be paired with the excellent defensive chops he had at the college and G League level (and showed to a respectable extent at the NBA level with a +0.10 DRPM), he should be able to make waves, insomuch as one can make waves in a summer league environment.

Josh Hart

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Lakers (Villanova) 7.9 4.2 1.3 46.9 39.6 70.2

It is a testament to how much less heralded this Laker squad is than those in past years that Hart is the standard bearer for the Lakers’ young core here, that distinction being held by three top-2 picks and one top-7 pick since 2014. Mind you, this is not from a lack of ability, Hart being much better in his rookie season than many of the Lakers’ recent lottery picks courtesy of being a much more polished upperclassman coming into the league, but it also represents an interesting inflection point in the Lakers’ rebuilding process with the team transitioning from building primarily in the draft to attempting to cash in on their previous investments in their young core to attract free agents or as potential trade chips.

If all of the above has less than to do with Hart himself than the team, it is since Hart does not project to have a terribly big presence in summer league, the Lakers’ front office limiting him to one game in each of the Sacramento and Las Vegas events, Hart’s mild protestations to the contrary as of late aside (and given the number of wings on the team who merit evaluation time, it seems unlikely that Magic and Pelinka will budge here).

Past his short cup of tea on the court, it does seem as if Hart is mainly here to provide that steadying presence on the bench as an extension of the coaching staff for an otherwise very young summer league squad.

Insofar as what he will do in the two games in which he does appear, Hart will have the opportunity to show his chops as a primary initiator, as no one else on the team will really challenge him in that respect, and show that the brief flashes of an in-between game and pick-and-roll operator skills he had near the end of this past season are something he can build upon. Hart likely will not be called upon to show an awful lot of that initiating talent, if any, in the regular season, but if he’s going to show signs that he can break out of his 3-and-D role player mold, this would certainly be a good time to demonstrate that that will be the case.

THE ROOKIES (UNDRAFTED)

Joel Berry II

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 UNC (Senior) 17.1 3.5 3.2 39.6 34.4 74.7

Measurements

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 6'0'' 195 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

If you have watched college basketball at all over the past three seasons, you have been exposed at some level to Berry, a consistent presence on some very successful UNC squads that twice reached the NCAA title game. NBA scouts and front offices are victims of familiarity as much as the rest of us, so seeing someone with Berry’s background managing to catch on with a team in this environment is unsurprising – teams are comfortable with the big programs, the systems and coaches the players in those programs operate under, and how players of similar ilk have made the transition in the past.

This is relevant to Berry since he does not have an awful lot going for him as a prospect, being a relatively diminutive guard who has always relied on rather inconsistent shooting volume from behind the arc (a big drop to a 34.4 3P% his senior year after 37.6% and 38.3% marks the previous two years) to fill in his points, while only being a so-so distributor for someone who can only play and defend one position at the next level.

Players with an elite shooting tool in Berry’s shoes have a hard enough time cracking the league, so his lack of decent secondary skills and physical superlatives hurt him quite a bit here.

Still, weirder things have happened in summer league and Berry’s certainly capable of having a hot two weeks that propel him onto bigger and better things, particularly since there are only a handful of players who look to be capable of manning the point for LA in summer league barring some funky Bonga lineups.

As for whether those bigger and better things come with the Lakers, the odds look particularly long and Berry’s upside in this situation is probably finding himself one of the main contributors for the South Bay Lakers.

Jeffrey Carroll

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Oklahoma State (Senior) 15.4 6.2 1.8 40.6 33.2 77.4

Measurements

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'' 220 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Context is often one of the hardest things to examine when evaluating a prospect since it is hard to ascertain whether a given player’s context is a limiting factor, or an empowering one and what the supposed “real” player looks like in a vacuum after you fold back all of those imposed layers of context.

That’s the issue with Carroll, who was a dynamite player his junior season, scoring 17.5 points per game on a 65.4 TS% (including 44.4% from three) until Jawun Evans left school and Carroll saw his percentages dramatically decline (53.2 TS%) as the primary option at Oklahoma State.

Generally, it is hard to fake the level of production Carroll put up in his junior season, particularly since he was not a tertiary part of Oklahoma State’s offense (posting a 23.7 USG%), but by the same token, a four-year senior who regresses in his final season is a big red flag when evaluating anyone’s potential prospects.

Carroll is particularly hurt by this since he’s not an especially active contributor in most other respects, whether as a playmaker (11.7 AST%) or defender (mediocre steal and block rates).

And while Carroll has a better pedigree insofar as production is concerned than say, Berry, he faces a far, far more difficult path towards getting playing time with the wing rotation absolutely stacked with players who merit evaluation time. This holds true even with Hart only playing two games and Bonga being out for the Sacramento summer league until his trade is official, so if anything, Carroll emerging from that fray with playing time would certainly be a good sign for his chances of catching the interest of LA’s front office decision makers.

Nick King

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
22 Middle Tennesee (Senior) 21.0 8.4 2.0 49.5 38.9 73.2

Measurements

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 6'7'' 220 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Speaking of context, evaluating players who are virtual unknowns on more heralded teams and proceed to break out on a mid-major squad is similarly difficult, as Nick King had a thoroughly forgettable college career at Memphis and Alabama before breaking through at Middle Tennessee to win the Conference USA Player of the Year.

There have been more than enough mid-major players who have had success in the NBA to dismiss concerns about the level of competition King faced, particularly insofar as the scoring volume he put up is concerned, as 21.0 points per game on a 56.9 TS% is impressive in just about any situation.

The bigger issue for King is what sort of niche he fills as the next level since that scoring package will have to translate for him to make an impact and separate himself from his peers in this environment. Bigger forward types who can be a threat to score while having a some initiating and playmaking talent (13.6 AST%) certainly have a role, but it is difficult to ascertain what a low usage, bite-sized version of him will look like as versus the ball-dominant (33.1 USG%), volume scorer he was allowed to be in Conference USA.

Ultimately, King faces a fairly uphill climb to crack the rotation in Vegas simply as a result of how crowded the wing rotation is, somewhat analogous to Carroll’s struggles, but while Carroll has, at least historically, had a singular tool that might distinguish himself in this environment (shooting), King will have to show what that tool or set of tools are that will earn him playing time.

Volume college scorers do not always make a seamless transition to a more truncated role, and King will have to do so in order to make any sort of splash in summer league.

Malik Newman

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
21 Kansas (Sophomore) 14.2 5.0 2.1 46.3 41.5 83.5

Measurements

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
6'2.5'' 6'3.5'' 189 6'5.5'' 27.5'' 33.5'' 8'2.5'' 10.9 3.13

A lot of our discussion so far has focused on how crowded the Lakers’ wing rotation is in Sacramento and Las Vegas, and how this is limiting the opportunities for some players on the roster; Newman is one of the primary culprits for why this is the case.

The holder of the Lakers’ fourth ever two-way contract, Newman is simply going to merit more playing time than others the Lakers have not similarly invested in, but this would be the case even if Newman had no such contract guarantee from LA.

This is in no short part since Newman is a very good shooter, distinguishable from Svi in that Newman’s skills go beyond spot-up shooting, being able to hit shots off the bounce and using excellent footwork to run off screens.

Combined with a respectable handle for a secondary ballhandler, Newman has real scoring chops, held back in part by rather limited vertical explosion restricting his ability to get to and score at the rim consistently and being an average playmaker largely only capable of making straightforward reads.

An indifferent defender in Mississippi State’s zone, Newman did not change his stripes all that much at Kansas in that respect either, as he is eminently lackadaisical in his off-ball responsibilities. While much better comparatively on ball, he projects as a mono-positional defender at the next level. Height and length (6’5.5’’ wingspan) play a role there and there may be more to unlock with Newman’s strength and stocky frame with respect to possible switching chops, but he definitely showed less utility on this end at Kansas than Svi did.

Shooters with potential scoring dynamism off the dribble are always worth a shot, however, despite Newman’s foibles, and he brings a ready-made NBA-level skill to the table while he figures out the secondary stuff. With how often summer league devolves into playground ball, a guy with Newman’s off the dribble chops certainly has the chance to make an impression and — especially without Hart playing a lot — Newman will likely have the green light to pour in buckets.

Malik Pope

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
21 San Diego State (Senior) 12.8 6.8 1.2 52.0 35.9 68.5

Measurements

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 6'10'' 205 7'2'' N/A N/A 9'0.5'' N/A N/A

The proverbial Alex Caruso of this summer league squad, Pope has what appears to be the strongest chance among the non-draftees and non-two way contract holders of challenging for a real spot on the Lakers’ roster, likely hoping for the scenario described in Caruso’s entry above in which Caruso plays his way onto the parent roster so Pope can claim the other two-way slot.

And without Thomas Bryant present, Pope will no doubt have no shortage of chances to make his case, as he probably starts along with Wagner in the frontcourt in what should be a really fun, quick and dynamic pairing.

Pope has never really lived up to the lottery billing he once hilariously received from ESPN’s Chad Ford, but he does have an interesting physical profile as a very athletic combo forward with good length and the outlines of a theoretically dynamic two-way player.

A very respectable block rate underscores his defensive interest (career 4.7 BLK%), also reflecting the time he spent in as a frontcourt player, but versatile, athletic forwards who are positionally versatile are the lifeblood of modern defenses and Pope has the physical tools, if not the ability at the moment, to be someone in that vein.

On the other end, an underrated handle brings Pope’s athleticism into play, but he has not yet been able to fully utilize it to pair a decent outside shot with his prodigious athleticism; his shot comes into play largely in spot-up and trail situations in transition, arguably the area in which he excels the most since he can get fully downhill and display his hops.

Coming into college, he offered some point forward intrigue but that has never really been a consistent thing for him in any year of his college career and if anything, Pope was most interesting this past season in the frontcourt as a pick-and-pop option who could also slip screens and throw down some thunderous dunks.

As is plain, a lot of the intrigue with Pope is a projection based on his physical tools and flashes of skill level that could bring those tools to the fore on both ends, as well as a healthy dollop of hope that he was limited by Steve Fisher’s curious desire to slow down a team of dynamic athletes in Grizzlies-style defensive grind-out matches. In that respect at least, the open floor of summer league should be a welcome invitation to him to freely flex his chops and make some headway in making a NBA roster.

Johnathan Williams

Statistics

Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age College (Year) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
23 Gonzaga (Senior) 13.4 8.5 1.6 56.3 22.9 54

Measurements

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 6'9'' 225 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Williams might be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Lakers making a surprising, if not shocking, swerve to part ways with Bryant, as what once looked like bit minutes at the outer fringes of the Lakers’ summer league frontcourt rotation now might genuinely turn into a real role for Williams.

The issue for Williams, a teammate of former Lakers Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown at Missouri, is that his archetype – a non-spacing, high energy defensive four – is one that is eminently difficult to stick in a league that routinely punishes teams who do not have ideal spacing and especially so a non-spacer you can hide lesser defensive players on.

This noted, we would be remiss not to mention Williams’ pluses, particularly on defense, where he does a solid job leveraging his speed and length into making things difficult for opposing guards; a 5.4 combined career steal-block rate is quite respectable for a guy who will be asked to step out and check perimeter players consistently and barring another addition in the frontcourt, Williams very well might end up playing some center for the Lakers in Sacramento and Las Vegas.

On offense, Williams does have a decent handle and is able to put the ball on the floor, improving his finishing tremendously after making the switch from Missouri to Gonzaga, no doubt helped by going to one of the best teams in the country but a welcome development nevertheless.

In the end, Williams’ case is marred by being a spacing negative and it is hard for non-centers to make much headway as a result; a 33.3 career 3P% on limited attempts looks a lot more hollow when considered alongside his dismal 57.2 career FT%, usually a good shorthand for shooting translation.

There are, to be sure, the signs of an interesting player here between Williams’ defensive chops, handle, and finishing, as befits a former top-50 high school prospect, but Williams’ upside here is likely convincing the Lakers’ brass that he’s a worthwhile option to continue to keep an eye on with the South Bay Lakers.

THE REST

Stephaun Branch

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
22 South Bay Lakers (West Georgia) 10.6 5.8 1.1 42.4 31.4 74.7

On that note, Branch was by far one of the most fun players to watch with the South Bay Lakers this past season as a very raw ball of length and athleticism who was nevertheless able to do a lot of interesting things on the court despite his limitations.

Although this sounds evocative of David Nwaba, who was able to translate a similar profile into a place in the pros, Branch was not quite the same player nor as effective, although he definitely did enough to merit a look on this squad and legitimately challenge for some playing time in this very full wing rotation.

Branch’s main intrigue starts defensively, since he is able to effectively apply his length and effort on the interior and in help situations, blowing up a startlingly high number of plays for a perimeter player with his activity (combined 5.8 steal-block rate last season), and he contributed a lot on the boards for a perimeter player (14.2 TRB%). Although undisciplined for the most part, the tools are certainly quite interesting and that they translated into production regardless is a welcome sign.

The other end is where Branch is more limited courtesy of being a very tepid spacing option, and although a 31.4 3P% on a not insignificant sample size (140 attempts) is noteworthy, it is telling that Branch’s main utility came in situations in which decision-making with the ball was not a paramount concern such as on the offensive boards (10.2 ORB%) or in transition.

A bottom tier AST% (7.04) for a perimeter player and a solidly negative pure point rating (-3.71) are fairly indicative of Branch’s foibles with the ball in his hands when asked to create and he really either has to improve in this respect or become a more capable off ball player.

At the moment, Branch is probably far too raw to have significant interest from the parent team but he certainly is someone to keep an eye on as option with enough production and raw tools to turn his G League stint into something more interesting. In the short term, he will have his work cut out for him to make headway in a crowded wing rotation but he certainly looks like one of the more interesting candidates.

Demarcus Holland

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 South Bay Lakers (Texas) 8.5 4.6 1.9 47.2 34 72.2

Where his teammate Branch was an unpredictable yet occasionally highly impactful dervish of activity, Holland was thoroughly milquetoast in comparison, starting nearly every game of the season for the South Bay Lakers but never really registering as an especially impactful player warranting a ton of interest.

On the heels of a mostly humdrum four-year campaign at Texas, where Holland was never be confused for a NBA prospect, Holland has the flavor of a perpetual G League inhabitant who will flitter between teams and ultimately find his payday somewhere overseas.

Holland’s biggest issue is that he lacks a distinguishable trait that sets him apart as a prospect: he was only a so-so floor spacer at the G League level (34.0 3P%) who rarely created his own looks, hardly a significant playmaker for others (9.62 AST%), and not much of a dynamic offensive player in general (54.4 TS% despite only a 15.1 USG%). He did receive some love in the G League voting for defensive player of the year and he does bring some solid positional defense pluses to the forefront, but his limitations athletically make it hard to prognosticate a lot of success at the next level in this respect.

And in a broken record at this point, Holland is yet another addition to the eight wings who will be angling for playing time in the Lakers’ summer league rotation, Hart only playing two games and Bonga not being present in Sacramento notwithstanding.

Perhaps Holland’s more controlled role player mindset will help him out in the coaching staff’s evaluation of who deserves minutes but at the moment, but it’s otherwise hard to see why those would go to Holland before more promising options who could offer more long term upside.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes

Statistics

Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
Age Team (College) PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT%
24 Weschester Knicks (Florida State) 16.8 6.5 7.1 43.0 33.8 61.3

One of the more interesting rotation battles will be between two players who battled for years in the ACC in Berry and Rathan-Mayes, the latter of whom likely has the advantage on the back of a strong rookie season in the G League that earned him a brief cup of tea with the Grizzlies on a 10-day.

A combo guard who was not much of an NBA prospect coming out of Florida State, Rathan-Mayes is perhaps a cautionary tale to not be overly critical of relatively humdrum productive college players but by the same token, the dozens of solid college players who consistently fail to produce at the next level ameliorate these worries.

In any case, Rathan-Mayes was a legitimate triple-double threat at the G League level, contributing as a rebounder (10.3 TRB%), passer (30.7 AST%) and scorer, albeit not much of an efficient one owing to a fairly low FT% for a guard (61.3 FT%) hamstringing what was already an inefficient shot selection spread (50.6 TS%).

His shooting foibles at both the line and, to a lesser extent, from behind the arc extend back to his time at Florida State, so they may ultimately be the things that shortchange his ability to make more of an impact but he definitely has the chops to be an interesting backup guard option at the next level should he manage to overcome these issues.

All of this should be enough to earn Rathan-Mayes the nod over Berry for the backup point guard spot behind Caruso, but one imagines that playing time could conceivably fluctuate behind Caruso over the course of summer league or Caruso could get a day or two off should he earn his way off his two-way contract.

Insofar as the Lakers are concerned, Rathan-Mayes is getting on the old side for a developmental prospect, and Caruso safely crushed his G League production last season by an order of magnitude, but another leap in Rathan-Mayes’ development, especially as a shooter, could conceivably make him someone the team will keep an eye on.

***

This will be the first summer league since 2013 in which people won’t be claiming that the Lakers’ summer league squad is stacked and should go through their opponents like a hot knife through butter, even if it was only the Lakers’ squad this past season that actually followed through and walked away with the title.

That said, this does project as a fairly strong squad with a lot of notable names that either register as prospects outright or players who could be prospects with an unexpected bump in their development that allows the team to benefit from the variance in having so many wing options present.

And with respect to that rotation and the surplus of wings, observe:

Projected Rotation

Positions Starters Bench Third String Fourth String
Positions Starters Bench Third String Fourth String
PG Alex Caruso Xavier Rathan-Mayes Joel Berry II --
SG Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk Malik Newman Stephaun Branch Demarcus Holland
SF Josh Hart Isaac Bonga Nick King Jeffrey Carroll
PF Malik Pope Johnathan Williams -- --
C Moritz Wagner -- -- --

The team very well could find a replacement for Bryant at some juncture during summer league, particularly since Wagner is the only center option on the entire roster unless the team plans on using Williams or even Pope as smallball options there. But the above table clearly points to a massive competition on the wings for minutes behind Hart, Svi, Newman, and Bonga, each of whom almost certainly have an initial edge thanks to being draft picks or two-way contract holders.

This adds a particular flavor of excitement to this year’s summer league since while in the past the main attraction was clearly the team’s lottery picks, who were expected to perform at a very high level in this environment, who will emerge here as the team’s proverbial leader is unknown, especially with Hart not playing for much of summer league.

Odds are that it will be one of the team’s draft picks such as Wagner or Svi, or two-way contract holders in Caruso or Newman, but there are enough interesting players stuffed into the rotation here that practically anyone could conceivably emerge as an interesting option of note over the next few weeks.

Altogether, this is the first summer league in years in which the Lakers will enter proudly triumphant following what is an unqualified free agent success in getting LeBron James to come to Los Angeles, happily reducing the importance of summer league as a need for refuge following a free agent failure, or needing the performance of the Lakers’ prospects here to be the salve that reminds us of a more promising future.

If anything, that future is now for the Lakers and should any of the players on the Lakers’ summer league squad desire to be a part of it, this certainly would be a good place to make a solid first impression in that respect.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.