In this episode of the Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete channels his inner Morpheus to describe Lonzo Ball’s Summer League performance, as Darius takes a more even-keeled approach, along with their reactions about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Ivica Zubac.
Summer League is a ton of fun. Diehard fans from across the league converge on Las Vegas to give an enthusiastic welcome to their teams’ latest 1st Round picks, in a convention-style atmosphere that brings every component of the basketball world to the same place. You’re just as likely to stand behind a current or former NBA player/coach in line to get a beer & hot dog as a fellow fan. Last year, I got to shake Nick Van Exel’s hand and tell him that he was my favorite player growing up before scurrying away in starstruck embarrassment. I laughed as I listened to an overzealous Toronto Raptors fan sing “I’m In Love With Caboclo” at the top of his lungs to the tune of the O.T. Genasis hit “CoCo” until the perpetually two-years-away-from-being-two-years-away Bruno Caboclo acknowledged him with a laugh. How often do you get to watch games with the fans of dozen different teams who are so rabid that they know pretty much every player on YOUR team’s’ roster? This environment, combined with getting together with friends, both old and new, amidst the usual fuckery of Vegas makes Summer League a necessary pilgrimage for any hardcore fan.
But how much does the basketball matter?
Lonzo Ball & the Rookie Class
Lonzo Ball will surely be greeted with raucous enthusiasm as he makes his Lakers debut on Friday night, as the purple & gold take on the Clippers at 5:30pm PST, with no less than face of the franchise expectations and a stacked supporting cast. Lonzo has doubled down on this hype, expecting the Lakers to “win the whole thing“.
But he has a few obstacles to overcome if he wants to achieve this. The prospects at the top of the draft rarely compete in 1-on-1 settings leading up to it, much less in 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 situations. The scrimmages during the Lakers’ week-long Summer League practice schedule represent Ball’s first competitive 5-on-5 play since March, against much tougher and older opponents, with unfamiliar teammates, and a new playbook. Ball’s game is so predicated on having synergy with his teammates while being the most savvy player on the court that I expect him to struggle a bit, particularly in half court situations. The PGs who tend to thrive in Summer League are those with athletic advantages and the ability to drive to the basket against largely disorganized defenses. Kris Dunn was a future all-star at this time last year, as was Emmanuel Mudiay two years ago, and as such I expect guys like De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith, Jr. to look better in Summer League than Ball does.
Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma should have smoother transitions, both as older players and guys who mostly thrive off of the shot creation of others. Kuzma in particular may raise some eyebrows, as he will be able to show off his passing and improved pick & pop ability amidst spacing that he never enjoyed at Utah, as noted in my recent video on how he fits in with the Lakers. Despite his rookie status, Hart is older than six of his teammates on the Lakers Summer League roster, and has a 3-&-D + fill the wing type of game that shouldn’t be impacted much by this unique environment. Both Kuzma & Hart thrive in transition as well, so that may be the recipe for a Lakers Summer League title. If the rookies are able to get the requisite defensive stops that they’ll need to get out and run alongside their more experienced teammates, they’ll be in business. (Ssidenote: I will be making a drinking game out of how often Kuzma falls down while in Vegas. His tendency to do so is Hibbert-esque)
Thomas Bryant should be a bit more of an adventure. He’s capable of picking & popping in a way that’s simpatico with Ball’s tendencies and runs the floor well, but he has questionable defensive awareness and decision-making that may be exacerbated in a Summer League setting.
Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have the most NBA experience on the Lakers Summer League roster, making them the seasoned pros of the team at the ripe, old ages of 19 and 20. As such, the expectations on them are rightfully much higher. Last year, I heard an NBA Front Office executive mention that you start to worry about your 2nd year guys if they don’t look like the best players on the court in Summer League, under the premise that they’ve had the benefit of a full year in the NBA, with access to all of the strength, conditioning, knowledge, and coaching that it provides. While that is a bit reductive, players like Devin Booker & D’Angelo Russell thrived, while Jaylen Brown has made quick work of the Utah Summer League this year.
It is fair to expect Brandon Ingram to be the best player on the team, after a season in which he played 2,279 NBA minutes, easily the most in his rookie class and the rest of this roster combined. I’ll be looking for him to continue the prowess that he demonstrated in attacking the basket toward the end of the year, while expecting an improved shooting stroke from 3-point range and the free throw line, as well as more disruption on the defensive end with his considerable length.
Zubac should be the primary beneficiary of whatever shot creation that Ball can muster, and I’d like to see him extending his range beyond the 3-point line. He is capable of hitting that shot, but it was under-utilized last year during the regular season, and the Summer League provides an excellent opportunity to get his feet wet in that respect. This, along with improved defensive awareness in pick & roll situations would constitute a successful Summer League for the big fella.
This week could be a bit of a coming out party for David Nwaba, whose defensive abilities can help the Lakers get out in transition, where he can fill a wing with the best of ’em in Vegas, and his feel for back-cut opportunities jives very well with the passing prowess of Ball and Kuzma. It may be too much to ask him to demonstrate a competent 3-point shot at this point, but that’s the only thing that stands in the way between him and a 10-year NBA career.
This is going to be the first time we’ll see the “Lakers” in any incarnation since April 12th, a stretch of nearly 3 months. We’re champing at the bit to get our first look at Lonzo, Kuzma, Hart, & Bryant, and see what improvements Ingram & Zubac have made. As a result of our eagerness, both the good and bad of Summer League are inevitably over-analyzed to an absurd degree. Every. Single. Year. Summer League is ultimately a mix of talented kids and journeyman veterans who just met each other, with a week’s worth of practice, with an assistant coach, all trying to showcase themselves for various leagues around the world. It barely qualifies as organized basketball.
So I’d suggest that you get out to Vegas this weekend if you can, set your DVR if you can’t, and treat any success that the young guys have as found money, while brushing off any struggles. But I know you won’t, and I’ll be arguing with someone about why Lonzo Ball isn’t the next Kendall Marshall at some point in the next week.
And that’s why I love you guys.
Pete & Darius discuss the timing of the Lakers’ longest win streak in 4 years, what that means for the team, and answer questions from fans on Twitter. Make sure to use the #LFRPodcast to have your question answered on-air.
By: Cranjis McBasketball
Closing the Season Strong
In a season without too many W’s in games, the Lakers most important wins this season have come in player development. The young players have made strides under Luke Walton and his staff, and it’s paid off with 3 wins in a row.
To take a look at exactly how the young guys have played since the All-Star break, I’ve listed their offensive points per possession (PPP) and the percentile that PPP places them versus the rest of the NBA for both before and after the break, so we can see the trend each player has taken.
Note: If a player is in the 70th percentile, that means that he’s performed better than 70% of the NBA
As an added bonus, I’ve also included a player comparison that has had that same PPP for this season.
Trend: More Up than Larry on a Dunk
Comparable Player: Anthony Brown (!?!)
Comparable Player: Paul George
Comparable Player: Kristaps Porzingis
Comparable Player: Jeff Teague
Trend: Up, Up, and Away
Comparable Player: Chandler Parsons
Comparable Player: Joel Embiid
Comparable Player: D’Angelo Russell
Comparable Player: Russell Westbrook
Comparable Player: Dario Saric
Comparable Player: Jamal Crawford
Trend: Slightly Down
Comparable Player: Devin Booker
Comparable Player: John Wall
Largest PPP Jumps
- Brandon Ingram: +0.159
- Ivica Zubac: +0.127
- D’Angelo Russell: +0.057
- Julius Randle: +0.052
- Jordan Clarkson: -0.017
- Larry Nance: -0.033
I’d put the six players into three tiers. Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have made substantial jumps in efficiency since the All-Star break. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle have made solid improvements. Unfortunately, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr. have regressed.
Let’s hope we can see continued improvement to close the season and this summer. Next season’s record should be vastly improved if next year these young Laker players can build on the progress they’ve made this year.
If each of these six players can perform next season like the better version of themselves between pre and post ASG, we can have a full year of players with the offensive efficiencies of Paul George, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, Russell Westbrook, Jamal Crawford, and Devin Booker. That’d be fun.
Ivica Zubac continued his transformation from lovable prospect that was more meme than man, into a legitimate 2-way player making critical contributions during a frenzied comeback in a 127-121 loss against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Zubac turned in one of the best pick and roll performances of any Laker this season, with an impressive display of skill and technique.
While Zubac’s sheer size is impressive, he accentuates it with superb technique. Watch as he sprints to his screen and nails Will Barton, freeing up Jose Calderon for an open jumper.
Bigs are taught to “lock” the defender’s foot in by placing their own foot above it, and Zubac does exactly that with his right foot. This technique assures that contact is made. Denver likes to soft hedge on screens, with the big hanging back in the paint, relying on the guard to go over the top of the screen and provide back pressure on the pull-up jumper. By making solid contact via a quality foot-lock, Zubac assures an open jump shot for his teammate.
In this example, Kenneth Faried hedges harder on Jordan Clarkson, and Jameer Nelson is forced to take a very wide recovery angle due to a quality foot-lock by Zubac. This, along with poor help-side defense by Denver, produces a great roll lane, and Clarkson finds him for an easy dunk.
In total, Ivica Zubac created 8 quality looks for his teammates by making contact on his screens.
Ivica Zubac created 4 quality looks for himself and others with his foot-locking technique alone.
Slipping, Rolling, & Providing a Passing Angle
Just as the ball handler has reads to make as he comes off of a screen, so too does the screen setter. He must read the defense and decide his screening angle, or if he should slip the screen altogether, which is usually determined by how his defender plays the pick & roll. Traps and hard hedges are susceptible to slipped screens. Zubac demonstrated an excellent feel for this read on several possessions vs. Denver.
Watch as he slips the screen and forces Mudiay to help on him, thereby freeing up Clarkson for an open 3-point attempt.
When a guard rejects a screen, which means to not use it and dribble in the other direction instead, the screen setter’s job is to settle in the open window that is created and provide an angle for a pocket pass. Zubac scored twice off of this action, displaying soft hands in the process.
Areas Where He Can Improve on the Pick and Roll
Zubac’s biggest weakness as a pick & roll man is on the short roll. A short roll is when the screen setter rolls to around the free throw line rather than all the way to the hoop, providing the ball handler a passing angle along the way. Players will often slip screens into a short roll, as both are advantageous against aggressive pick & roll defenses. If done properly, this creates a 4-on-3 scenario in which the big must identify the open man and get him the ball, or attack if he is the open man.
On this play, Zubac short rolls and attempts to dump the ball off to Brandon Ingram, when the correct read is a skip pass to Jordan Clarkson for an open 3.
He did a better job of reading this play later in the 4th quarter, passing the ball to Nick Young for a 3-point attempt. Ideally, there would have been one more pass to Jordan Clarkson on this play, although Clarkson is up too high. Had he been at the free throw line extended, this would have been a wide open attempt for him, all due to Zubac’s read on the short roll.
Making the correct read on the short roll is largely a function of experience and repetition.
Zubac has demonstrated 3-point range in the D-League, which would make him practically unguardable in pick & roll situations. Here is an example where he would have an open jumper available to him if he chose to pop behind the line. This would also alleviate a great deal of pressure from Laker guards, who often see extra attention paid to them as a result of teams not worrying about the Laker bigs when they are on the perimeter.
Ivica Zubac possesses a remarkable combination of size, technique, soft hands, touch, and motor, all of which are important factors in being an effective pick & roll player. His ability to make reads on the short roll will likely come with time, and if he’s able to add a dependable 3-point shot, he can become one of the best pick & roll bigs in the NBA in the coming years.
Pete & Darius discuss a horrific week for the Lakers, the red flags that they see amongst the young core, and the potential of Ivica Zubac.