Los Angeles Lakers basketball is back — well, sort of.
While the team continues their hot pursuit of recent NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and carries on with the daunting task of filling out the rest of their bare roster in the process, their summer league squad is set to take the stage tonight as the “California Classic” portion of their July slate kicks off in Sacramento.
The team will be coached by South Bay Lakers’ head coach Coby Karl during their initial four games in Sacramento, and then current Lakers’ assistant coach Miles Simon will take the reigns when the team lands in Las Vegas.
For the players on the roster, performing well during these exhibition games not only goes a long way in helping garner interest with scouts, whether overseas or in the NBA, but there also lies a real opportunity to crack the Lakers’ opening night roster given how many spots are currently open.
The players will also have more of a chance to showcase their skills with the news that the team’s recent second round pick, Talen Horton-Tucker has been ruled out for at least the club’s first four games due to a stress reaction in his right foot that was discovered during the NBA Draft combine:
The Lakers have done surprisingly well finding diamonds in the rough through the un-drafted player pool, and through the use of their G-League affiliate, have continued to turn out inexpensive and productive talent for the parent squad. With the likes of David Nwaba, Jemerrio Jones, Alex Caruso and Johnathan Williams being the most recent examples.
With the team now fairly top heavy, and maybe even more so if they add another star, the ability to be able to not only identify undiscovered talent, but target them, will be exponentially important in terms of rounding out the margins for years to come.
So who are the potential diamonds this year? Let’s take a look at two candidates.
Zach Norvell Jr.
Potentially the most likely player to crack the team due to quickly signing a two-way deal after going undrafted, Gonzaga sharpshooter Zach Norvell Jr. will hope to show he could offer the Lakers the much needed shooting chops they desire.
Norvell played a key role with the Bulldogs last season by helping space the floor for the team’s front-court duo, Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. He did so very effectively.
According to Synergy, Norvell Jr. ranked in the 86th percentile of the NCAA in his spot up attempts as a sophomore, and was in the 81st percentile in terms of jump shots in the half court. Both are tremendously enticing skills the Lakers likely hope translate at summer league.
It also does not hurt that analytics expert Kevin Pelton’s data model ranked Norvell Jr as the 26th best player in the draft.
Arguably the most intriguing player on the Lakers summer league roster, former Mississippi State power forward Aric Holman has flashed the tantalizing skillset from a big that team executives readily covet in the modern game.
Standing at 6’10,” Holman showed legitimate range as a senior as he canned his chances from deep at a nearly 43 percent clip, which was not entirely out of the ordinary for the lanky big. Holman converted his total 251 collegiate 3-point attempts at a superb 38.2 percent rate.
The Lakers noticeably lacked a spacing option on the roster last season, which very likely gets addressed with Anthony Davis now on the roster, but could benefit from another front court option who could actively fire from deep. But can Holman fill this role? His advanced metrics suggest it’s a possibility.
As a senior, Holman ranked in the 89th percentile in the entire NCAA in spot-up shooting, in the 95th percentile in jump shots in the half court, and he was also in the 92nd percentile on his catch-and-shoot chances. Rare shooting marks from someone his size.
There is no doubt the Lakers will actively continue to seek out shooting in the free agent market, as their signing of Troy Daniels suggests, but do not be surprised if they also closely monitor how their summer league players perform in Sacramento and Las Vegas.
At the moment, the Lakers have a lot of roster spots to fill, and not a lot of money left to do so if they sign an additional max player, thus creating a prime opportunity for one or a few of these players to make a living — and a name — for themselves in L.A.