Los Angeles Lakers Summer League 2016 is nothing like Summer League 2015 and it is fantastic. Unlike Drake’s Summer 16, the Lakers’ Summer 16 has delivered on the hype and excitement promised months before. The firing of Byron Scott, the hiring of Luke Walton, keeping the draft pick and using it on Brandon Ingram… It has all resulted in waiting to see how it translates on the court.
Having watched the past three games (two of which I was two rows behind court side), I was fixated on D’Angelo Russell and how the 20 year old is slowly shaping up to become the leader of this young team, despite other reports. Here are some of my thoughts on what I’ve seen from D’Angelo through 3 games of Summer League play and how it compares to last year.
I’m going to preface this by saying that the change in coaching staff will benefit D’Angelo Russell the most. Having off-ball movement and actual offensive sets is entirely beneficial for a point guard, and through the past 3 games, it has showed. I remember watching last year yelling “What are you doing?!” several times at the TV. Seeing D’Angelo dribble the ball for 20 seconds pass the ball to Jordan Clarkson only to have them miss the shot… The current coaching staff are putting their players in a position to succeed and showing the young team encouragement, unlike before. You would not have heard Byron say this last year:
LAL Summer League coach Jesse Mermuys said D’Angelo Russell “has a chance to be special.”
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) July 10, 2016
If you are comparing stats between this SL and last, D’Angelo has doubled his scoring average ,going from 11.8 PPG to 22.7. Rebounding went from 3.2 to 6.7 as well as steals which went from 1.0 to 1.7. Assists are down from 5.2 to 4.0, which is fine. He is still distributing even while carrying a brunt of the scoring load.
A worrying stat for some is the turnover numbers. D’Angelo is roughly around where he was last year with 5 per game. I say a “worrying” stat since a few of the turnovers were the result of his teammates not being ready to catch the pass. D’Angelo is being aggressive with the ball and turnovers can be due to this style of play. It would be completely different if he were throwing errant passes not amounting to anything (aka Rondo-ing). Besides, the coaching staff does not seem concerned and view it as a learning experience.
Mermuys said they’re not worried about D’Angelo’s turnovers right now, says they’re encouraging him to make plays & with that comes mistakes
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) July 13, 2016
Going to shift this conversation to his play on the court. Scoring has and will be his forte, showing it off at OSU where he averaged 19 PPG during his lone season. These Summer League games have really been a display of his scoring prowess, with the ability to get buckets at will. It looks like he is getting his shots off quicker, which will help when defenders close out on him. If you check out this play here with Ingram driving and dishing to D’Angelo, he gets the shot off pretty fast even with a defender in his face.
Another example is the ending of the 2nd game against the 76ers where he scored the last 5 points for the Lakers including that final buzzer beater. If you saw the first half of the game against the Warriors, D’Angelo had 22 points in the first half making it look effortless. Playing in a pick and roll heavy offense benefits him here. If the defender goes under the screen, he will pull up. If the defender goes over the screen, D’Angelo has been a good job of keeping the defender at his hip and scoring from closer range.
Here we have Patrick McCaw going under and that leads to:
It is encouraging to see him use his size against smaller defenders inside. Standing at 6’5″ 195~ pounds, D’Angelo stands tall compared to the average point guard. Here is a play where he sees the mismatch against the smaller guard, backs him down in the post for the score.
There were not many highlights passing-wise from D’Angelo, and there is nothing wrong with that. He has showcased his capability as a passer and he will have more opportunities in the regular season. But here’s a nice assist he had to Zach Auguste. First he gets the steal, sees that Auguste is wide open, slings the ball and a quick two points for the Lakers.
Here we have D’Angelo executing a pick and roll to perfection. Larry Nance Jr. sets the screen, dives, and receives a perfectly placed pass for the easy dunk. It’s helpful to surround this sort of player with teammates that can catch a ball and finish at the rim. (Also stay on their feet. Speaking of which, check out his old teammate, Roy Hibbert. He literally did none of the things I listed prior) We all know his passing ability is great. In a PnR offense like this, the game will open up for him and his teammates.
What I am noticing too is how polished D’Angelo’s handle is and the improvement from last year.
This was one example of using the crossover to get around the defender for the basket. He’s keeping the ball low and seemingly on a string, being able to bait his defender with his shiftiness. This will no doubt be a valuable tool to have during the regular season and will be important for his development. D’Angelo can take advantage of the switch as well as we saw above. Fans have yet to see how he’ll play against defensive guards like Chris Paul, but we will have to wait to see a matchup like that.
Defensively speaking, there is still much to be desired. D’Angelo took advantage of the inferior guards that he faced against the Warriors and Pelicans. His length and defensive awareness are good for interrupting passing lanes.
Lateral quickness seems to be an issue for D’Angelo as we saw against the 76ers and TJ McConnell. Of course his wingspan helps, but there were moments where a quick crossover resulted in McConnell getting past D’Angelo. There is time for defensive improvement as he is only 20. If he wants to hold his own as a PG, especially in the West, D’Angelo has to buckle down defensively. Although I see there being an improvement as I believe the overall team defense will be better than last year.
“BUT KENDREW THIS IS JUST SUMMER LEAGUE”
I know, and that’s fine. We’re seeing what D’Angelo can do against lesser opponents and I’m looking forward to seeing what he will bring during the regular season. The improvement is there and this is crucial for the rebuild. D’Angelo trusts the process and letting his game speak for itself.
This is fun to watch. If the past few games have been indication, the Lakers will be fun to watch. And after 2 years of Byron Scott this is all I’m asking for.
Also, shoutout to Nelson for the gifs. He’s the real MVP for this one. We ride together, we die together, Lakers Pulse fo’ lyfe.