LOS ANGELES — Lakers rookie Zach Norvell Jr. had one of the singular highlights of the preseason so far on Monday night, dropping Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole to the floor with a soul-stealing crossover that momentarily seemed to shatter Poole’s ankles, giving Norvell a lane to the basket, where he finished through contact.
Norvell’s veteran teammates loved it, with LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Danny Green and more running onto the floor and roaring in celebration along with the Staples Center crowd.
Zach Norvell Jr. had Jordan Poole on all fours and the Lakers bench went WILD pic.twitter.com/s0y5rgcGve— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 15, 2019
Norvell flexed after scoring the basket as his teammates dapped him up, but after the game he couldn’t have sounded less excited while describing the move, dipping into coach speak with the same ease of a savvy veteran that he’s mostly played like so far, culminating in the game-and-career-high 22 points he glided around the court to accrue against the Warriors.
“I just wanted to get the best team shot. He kind of tripped, I was able to make a good finish at the rim,” Norvell said matter-of-factly with a bit of a smirk, but he slowly revealed a hint of the excitement that is normal for rookies when pressed for a reaction to the bench’s celebration.
“That was pretty exciting to see the vets and all them get excited. That was pretty cool,” Norvell said, his smile starting to widen.
This is the essential dichotomy at the core of the Norvell/Lakers experience so far. The undrafted rookie is on a two-way deal, the type of contract normally reserved for developmental prospects who need a little seasoning. Norvell is by no means a finished product, but so far he’s demonstrated veteran-like poise with both the smoothness of his game, and his attempts to stay cool and collected while keeping everything in perspective off the floor.
Take, for example, Norvell’s response when asked about how he was able to get up for the game despite arriving from China at 5 a.m. just the day before.
“That’s part of the job. I’m early on in this process, but I understand that you can’t have any excuses,” Norvell said. “Just be mentally tough throughout the game. Play team ball, that helps as well.”
If you just read that quote without a name, you’d probably think it came from a 10-year NBA veteran, not an undrafted rookie playing in his fourth preseason game. But saying things like that doesn’t mean Norvell is completely bereft of nerves. He admitted that prior to the game he had to continually tell himself “hey, you’re playing basketball, do what you’re here to do” because any player’s “first game in Staples in a Lakers jersey is something (they) always dream of.”
So while he’s trying not to hype himself up too much, Norvell also doesn’t have to, because Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is happy to do it for him.
“Zach’s got a real knack for scoring the basketball. He’s not just a shooter. He understands reading defenses, how he’s being guarded and how the bigs are approaching him when he comes off of screens,” Vogel said, before praising the composure Norvell showed on his crossover.
“Those are the things he can do with the basketball, and then everybody’s got to honor him and what he brings to the team when other people have (the ball). They know they’ve got to stay out on the shooter. He was great tonight.”
On a veteran team with playoff aspirations, Norvell likely won’t get many opportunities to be great during the regular season, no matter how many heads he’s turned in training camp, and now during preseason games as well. He’s still only shooting 36.7% overall and 33.3% on threes. He’s had his moments, but we’ll need more time before declaring him this scouting department’s most recently unearthed diamond in the rough.
Still, just like the defense he so ably analyzed on Monday night, Norvell is reading his current situation and taking advantage of it as best he can, choosing to try and soak in as much knowledge from the team’s veterans as possible while he has the chance to learn from such an accomplished roster.
“Honestly I can’t single out one. We’ve got so many guys that’s been around the game for so long with decorated careers,” Norvell said. “Rondo with the basketball mind that he has. LeBron, AD. Jason Kidd.
“You’ve got a lot of those guys around the locker room, so you’ve just got to ask questions, you can’t be scared,” Norvell continued. “Danny (Green), him being a shooter, a guy who’s won championships like that, he’s definitely someone I look forward to going to when times may get rough, but yeah for the most part I just try to pick all their brains.”
Whether Norvell is getting his first career start in an NBA preseason game, coming off the bench later in the season, or playing in the G League, it sounds like he’ll have the same approach that he says he took on Monday night to calm himself.
“Just understand at the end of the day, when the ball tips it’s still basketball,” Norvell said. “I’ve been playing the game since I was young, so I just tried to play the game the right way. The basketball gods usually reward you for doing that. For the most part I was just trying to stay confident and poised.”
The basketball gods rewarded him Monday, and if Norvell keeps approaching things as maturely, confidently and calmly as he did against the Warriors, it’s a safe bet they’ll do so again.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.