Watching the first two Lakers summer league games in person was one of the most memorable moments of my young life. D’Angelo’s buzzer beater and the overall vibe made it worth the four hour drive and the cost. Getting to see one of favorite players to watch (Ben Simmons) go up against my team was a dream come true. Annoying fans aside, it is something I recommend all fans to attend next year.
Since I attended a couple Summer League games, I figured I would share my experience and give some thoughts on how the team has performed. The format that was on display last time will be the default one going forward, but this felt more appropriate. I will be walking you through what happened on Friday and Saturday, followed by some analysis on the games.
Lakers Summer League, Day One
Since we figured there would be a lot of traffic and the lines would be big to see Buddy vs. Ingram, we arrived around half time of the previous game between the Wolves and Nuggets. Seeing Kris Dunn’s nasty crossover and Jamal Murray create his shot a bit easier than I expected was a very nice appetizer to the entree to come later.
As the 4th quarter was coming to a close, the previous four hour drive was out of mind and out of sight once the Pelicans started jogging onto the court. There were some Buddy chants (not by me) as the college darling put up some practice shots. Seeing his stroke in person was a bit marvelous. He had a quick and precise release that was always timed perfectly. The other players were not important and the entire stadium was buzzing to see the Lakers come out, and boy did they.
They all came out and got into their layup lines with the entire crowd yelling and clapping. Phones were out and it looked as if the Warriors were in the house. The red area was the section that I sat in and hopefully it gives you some perspective on my angle:
It wasn’t the greatest angle ever, but it allowed me to see pretty close how the players move in person and how huge they are.
When looking at Ingram in person, I nearly fainted just because of how long he was and how he was able to flat out shoot over anyone so easily. Ingram was clearly one of the more cheered for players coming out of the gates. He received plenty of cheers whenever he touched the ball and the crowd was in the same awe that I was when he scored off of an iso so easily. He seemed to rush some of the things he was doing, but it just seemed like nerves. Ingram, Nance, and Zubac all had a block party as they used their length and athleticism (some more than others) to protect the rim. Ingram played as expected for a rookie that needs some time to develop. He flashed the scoring, defense, and playmaking as he kicked the ball out a couple times and took it up the court comfortably.
D’Angelo Russell was the best player on the court when you look at the whole picture. A case could be made for Nance and he did have great spurts. What Russell did as far as dictate an offense, score and pass the ball, and be a leader on the court gives him the MVP honors for the game. The crowd in general loved him but there were some sour apples, as expected.
So practically everything the D’Angelo haters say on Twitter was being thrown out during the game. I resisted telling him anything because I hate attention. As annoying as it was, it was great to see him shut up when D’Angelo went on his scoring tear. Luckily there were some D’Angelo fans that called him out and made him shut up in the 4th quarter. Some people that were on the fence about Russell left the came away impressed. Although it is just Summer League, his showing demonstrates the growth that he has found as a player. Leadership and controlling the floor are things that only a few point guards can do well. D’Angelo has now taken huge steps in this area. The growth is real, and it will only shine through more during the real competition.
Nance built off of what he did last year and stole the show. He was flying all over the court prompting chants of his name and people have already begun to sleep on Julius Randle. Don’t get me wrong, Nance is going to be an incredibly valuable piece and may eventually be a solid starter, but saying he is and will be better than Randle is simply absurd. Randle is a double-double machine that flashes playmaking upside. Randle’s ceiling is so much higher and would be performing even better than Nance if he were playing in Summer League. It is important to not get stuck in the moment and to notice that high energy and effort guys shine more than other players. Yet Larry acted like a second year player with his body language and leadership. He showed an improved jumpshot that now extends to the 3 point line. On multiple actions, the Lakers ran pick and pops from the 3 point line or mid range distance. That now allows him to potentially be more effective and expand his game. Growth is what you want to see from these games and Nance delivered.
Zubacca came to play, baby! What I took away from this game was how I was both wrong and right about Zubac. He showed everything that I mentioned in my scouting report. He has an amazing touch when backing a player down and driving. What impressed me much more is how he protected the rim. He showed some good timing and used his length perfectly to get blocks. Ivica hasn’t been challenged on the perimeter so his greatest weakness hasn’t been exposed. We don’t know how much he will contribute, but his play here and what he has said gives me hope that he will be a key contributor of the core. The fans have already embraced him, and so have D’Angelo and Larry. The Zubacalyps is coming, You ready big fella?
All in all, it was a promising showing of the new system that the Lakers will use. Luke Walton received constant cheers when the camera was on his face. There were even a few Walton jerseys in the crowd. The MAKE LAKERS BASKETBALL FUN AGAIN movement is in full swing as the fans and bloggers all love the new look Lakers. The team and fans had a heck of a first day, but day two was what really made the trip worth it.
Lakers Summer League, Day Two
The Lakers playing the Sixers was supposed to be THE game of the summer. It featured the #1 pick in Ben Simmons squaring off against the #2 pick Brandon Ingram. The stage was set for a dramatic game. Ben Simmons’ best friend from high school, D’Angelo Russell, is now a sophomore and is looking to prove the haters wrong. The other players on the team had previous experience in the NBA or D-League. First round steal Timothe Luwawu was also in action for the Sixers. The Sixers came out first since they were the designated away team. Ben Simmons isn’t a Laker, so he was immediately booed as he missed more than half of his warm-up jump shots.
Before I get into my observations, I want to share my story of how I got into the stadium. I had already bought my tickets, so waiting in line for that wasn’t needed. I wanted to quickly look for an Ingram or Russell jersey, and it was 5:00 by the time we left. It was a move that I regret now, since we arrived seven minutes before tip-off. The entire arena was PACKED. Some of the only seats available were all the way on the top. There were some open seats but security didn’t let people in. We had to pass as family members to a guy sitting with a couple good seats open. The dude played along and we had prime seating for one of the best moments of my life. For perspective, here was where I sat:
Everyone had their phones and cameras out recording and taking pictures of the warm ups for both sides. The biggest headliner, Ben Simmons, was doing his thing, but the “Let’s go Lakers” chant was in full effect as the Lakers put up some shots. The crowd rose up as Russell and Ingram were putting up shots and Russell and Simmons both met in the middle as captains. The way the arena was buzzing was sort of like it was a Game 7. People were talking excitedly and yelling before tip-off. I was stunned through the entire workout so that’s why I have no footage.
This game was terrible until half way into the 3rd quarter. Then it became much more competitive. Russell took over and won the game for the Lakers. Nance had another great game and Zubac built on his last performance. Ingram was no where to be seen as he struggled all night. His jumpshot will need to be on point to have success early on. Since this game was so bad, there isn’t much for me to say about it, except “ICE IN MY VEINS!”
These were just some observations on Summer League and some things I noticed in person. The players and coaches seemed to get along and talk to each other a lot. It was interesting to see how the players look happy playing ball. They looked genuinely happy to be out there and playing for the team. This new environment is definitely having an effect on the game, and it will be interesting to see how it carries over.