Ah yes. NBA Summer League has arrived, the magical elixir for hoop starved fans the world over. Though it might not draw the same kind of attention NFL preseason does, it is nonetheless a time for youth to flourish unencumbered by the pesky superiority of the NBA regular season. It is a time of great hope, as fans get their first glimpse at the future stars as their soon to be franchise faces step wobbly and unsure onto the court as new fauns from the womb of their respective team practice facilities. It is also a time of wild and excessive speculation as we begin to project NBA success from what is really a glorified scrimmage.
With all that in mind, the number 1 and 2 picks from the 2015 draft, Karl Anthony-Towns and De’Angelo Russell, took the court together for the first time in what we all hope to be a preview of western conference finals to come years down the road. This as expected, drew a number of eye balls as not only these top picks, but last years dunk champ (Zach Lavine) and last year top Lakers pick, Julius Randle, also took the court. As such lets check out a few takeaways from Friday’s game.
1. De’Angelo Russell is a heady player. Russell made several smart passes leading to teammates getting easy buckets (including a no-look outlet that led to a Jordan Clarkson dunk). More importantly he made the easy pass, which a number of young point guards have issue with as they try too hard to make the spectacular happen when the ordinary will do.
2. Julius Randle is matchup nightmare for opposing bigs. Quicker than your 4 and stronger too. On more than one occasion Randle would jab step away then make the quick move to his dominant side and if that didn’t work he would barrel through whomever was still standing in his way (hi adrien payne) to get fouled or get the bucket. He did have issues finishing over length and began to settle for jumpers at one point, akin to a young super man not understanding the full extent of his powers. However, Randle near the end of the game came to the conclusion that he was just going to go to the basket and what do you know it worked! Crazy how that works out right?
3. Zach Lavine can shoot
4. Tyus Jones is going to have an issue creating separation at this level. Point guards need to be able to get in the lane and create opportunities for their teammates. Jones struggled getting away from anyone who was put in front of him and as such was relegated to low percentage jumpers and off-balance shots. However, he displayed a certain calmness that belied the fact that this was his first game.
5. Karl Anthony-Towns is as versatile as advertised. Scoring his points in a variety of ways, from pick-and-pop jumpers to isolations on the block. Towns displayed an offensive arsenal that left you wondering just how good this kid could be once he puts it all together. However, his issue will be making quicker decisions when the ball comes to him. To often Towns caught the ball at the high post or wing and it was obvious he was thinking about what was his next move going to be.
6. Jordan Clarkson is athletic. Also, his range has increased as his release looked less laboured and he was able to capitalize on the aforementioned Russell passes to knock down a couple of threes. This is key, as his ability to play off the ball and spread the floor will be important to the potency of a Lakers offense that is not saturated with good shooters. However, for the sake of being nitpicky, Clarkson needs to achieve more arc on his shot as the flat trajectory is going to lead to more caroms off the rim than he would like.
7. Zach Lavine can dunk.
8. Lakers rookie free agent signee Robert Upshaw can have a long career in this league. (This is just assuming he stays out of trouble of course) He is offensively skilled, can block shots, and more importantly passes the “7 footer who can walk and chew gum at the same time” test. Upshaw desperately needs to get in shape and was obviously laboring at times, but the skill and promise is readily apparent.
9. Clarkson and Russell could be a problem defensively. (In the good sense of the word) The combination of length and athleticism by Clarkson and Russell has the capability to cause havoc for opposing backcourts on the defensive end. They showed it in spurts Friday night, closing down passing lanes and forcing Minnesota guards to settle for jumpers. Their issue will be consistency and not getting frustrated as they take their lumps learning to communicate with the rest of their teammates and get burned when they gamble for steals.
10. Zach Lavine can shoot and dunk, so far though it still does not seem like he can do much else. Unless he develops a better handle and cuts down his turnovers, he is at risk of becoming a shorter version of Gerald Green. Now Gerald Green is in by no means a bad player, but he is in no way the all-star caliber of player people believe Levine can one day be. That all being said, Lavine was one of the better players on the court Friday and displayed an improved ability to get to the cup and finish, only helped by a perceived increase in bulk.
Jotham Kabuye can be followed on instagram @jothamkabuye. If he is watching black and white movies on AMC, he usually can be found carefully curating his rare wooden nickel collection.