After losing their first two games in Vegas, the Lakers won six-in-a-row en route to a Summer League Championship over the Portland Trail Blazers.
While this accolade doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of the regular season, it’s a nice feather in the cap of this young team. Though the franchise is rooted in winning, the Lakers haven’t enjoyed much success in the past four seasons. Winning this tournament enables the young core to build a winning culture. This may not translate to a playoff spot, but it’s a nice start nonetheless.
The headlining act from the Lakers’ championship team was undoubtedly Lonzo Ball. The UCLA point guard had an unceremoniously poor introduction to the professional game — going 2-of-15 in his debut versus the rival Clippers. The naysayers (mostly on social media) were crucifying Ball for his lackluster effort. Much of this stemmed from the outspoken nature of Ball’s father, LaVar.
With that said, Ball responded in a big way. He accrued two triple-doubles throughout the remaining seven games. Over the last decade during Las Vegas Summer League play, there have been zero triple-doubles. Ball’s most impressive game came against the 76ers — where he registered 36 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds.
His ability to pass the basketball is truly transcendent. There were countless times in which Ball found open teammates streaking down the floor. He also had a penchant for passing his teammates open. Ball averaged 16.3 PPG, 9.3 APG, and 7.7 RPG during his six-game run. As a result, he was named as the Summer League MVP.
While Ball garnered much of the press clippings, Kyle Kuzma — the No. 27 pick in this year’s draft — was simply spectacular.
He had been only a 30-percent shooter from three-point range during his time in college. Many figured Kuzma to be a skilled and bouncy forward with limited range. He shattered that preconceived notion — as Kuzma drilled 48-percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. It was a startling revelation for both the franchise and the fan base. In the Summer League Championship game, Kuzma garnered MVP honors with a 30-point and 10-rebound performance.
Throughout the tournament, Kuzma averaged 21.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. He also shot a blistering 51.4-percent from the field. The Michigan native demonstrated versatility on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Kuzma was more than capable of taking players off of the dribble and finishing at the rim. Couple that with his proclivity for hitting threes, and he has the makings of a very dynamic offensive player.
Defensively, Kuzma guarded both threes and fours. He’s got the length and lateral quickness to stick with either position. In a league largely focused around ‘position-less’ personnel, Kuzma appears to be a perfect fit.
The signing of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope makes this team even more fascinating going forward. We know much of the attention will center around Ball and his unselfish, flashy style of play. Caldwell-Pope is a defensive-minded athlete on the wing. He can guard multiple positions on the floor — which will help to compensate for Ball’s own defensive deficiencies. There’s a decent chance the Lakers will “hide” Ball on the weaker member of the opposing backcourt. Caldwell-Pope would then have the task of defending the opposition’s best player.
The franchise is hopeful that both Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram will make jumps in their respective games. If the Summer League is any indication, Ingram looks to have made strides physically and in terms of aggressiveness. Brook Lopez also gives the Lakers a legitimate post presence, with the ability to stretch (and space) the floor.
Considering how loaded the Western Conference is, there’s no guarantee the Lakers will be a playoff team this upcoming year. It will be relying upon a very inexperienced core, and a bench (as currently constituted) with little in the way of experience.
However, it should be an entertaining team. For the first time in five years, this squad will actually be a “watchable” entity — rather than one with a dilapidated superstar and a cast of misfits.
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