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Mixed Bag for Lakers Prospects at Summer League

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Fans aren’t customarily roaming the streets looking for sports bars showing Summer League games. But if your team was in the lottery this past season, you might be a tad bit more intrigued by the basketball being played in Las Vegas right now.

The Lakers have been allergic to playing watchable basketball over the past few years. But with high hopes for second overall pick D’Angelo Russell and last year’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle, they’re hoping for changes in the land. But through four Summer League games, it hasn’t been that pretty, although Randle played much better in his last game.

Russell had a solid eight points, six assists and five rebounds in nearly 27 minutes of action against the Wolves in the Lakers’ first Summer League game, but it surely wasn’t an immaculate performance. You have to believe he struggled with some nerves even with the game not holding any real type of significance. Sometimes you get caught up in trying to do too much and it takes away from your ability to perform well.

With Russell being the team’s primary facilitator, the five turnovers he had in the first game weren’t exciting to say the least. In fact, he’s averaging 6.5 turnovers through the first four games.

For the Buckeyes, Russell averaged just 2.9 giveaways in his lone season, so this is likely just some early jitters. With proper adjustments and acclimation to the pace of the NBA, Russell should be able to eradicate many of these turnovers from his repertoire.

It’s also worth noting that Russell has never played with any of these guys before, so optimism suggests that with familiarity comes better results.

They have to be encouraged with the excellent court vision and nifty passing he’s displayed thus far. Just look at this:

Russell’s also been impressive in the rebounding department, which is something that would ideally carry over into the regular season when he’s going up against a higher level of physicality.

Another area of the game the coaching staff would like to see an improvement in is his shooting, which has been awful. But we’ve optically been encouraged by what he’s shown as it pertains to his confidence coming off screens and getting to his spots. We intensely scrutinize the jump shooting ability of young players when they come into the league. This part of their game develops with time, and Russell was an excellent shooter at Ohio State.

Jordan Clarkson, another member of the Lakers’ backcourt, continues to be a bright spot for the organization with his relentless attitude on the court. With his confidence mounting, Clarkson has emerged as an individual who can take on an increased role, even with a healthy Kobe Bryant in the lineup.

I’m not sure if the Lakers are opposed to slotting Bryant at the 3 and going with a Clarkson/Russell pairing in the backcourt, but this would give them an interesting dynamic. The combination of quickness, exceptional IQ and scoring would enable this to work. Those watching these two play have to be salivating at the thought of Russell zipping highlight-worthy passes to Clarkson, an improved shooter and a pretty good finisher.

More young talent is on the way to Staples Center in the form of Randle, who has played in just three of the four games for the Lakers with the team opting to rest him last Friday against the Sixers. Prior to the leg injury he suffered last season, we heard him draw some comparisons to Zach Randolph. But that leg injury in the first game of the year put him out for the season, so he never got a chance to live up to that comparison.

In his first two games in Vegas, Randle shot just 5-for-17 with six turnovers. But as mentioned, he responded wonderfully in their last game with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed four rebounds, managed just one turnover and went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe.

Patience is the key in this situation. Not only are they dealing with someone who hasn’t really gotten NBA experience, but also one who was prohibited from participating in any basketball activities for a while. It’s naturally going to take him some time to get comfortable to the NBA setting.

But regardless of anything, there’s no excuse for him corralling only one rebound in their first game. That’s absolutely unacceptable and there needs to be significant improvement, which there likely will be.

It’s easy to make judgments following the Summer League. The players who dominate will be looked upon as potential NBA greats and those who don’t perform will have “bust” attached to their name. Russell and Randle are going to learn that NBA players are faster, stronger and smarter than those at the collegiate level. Defenses are much better as well.

I happen to think these two will prove to be great players. Management has to feel good when they visualize pick-and-roll action involving Russell and Randle, with Clarkson being worthy of inclusion as well.

Ideally, the Lakers would love for Randle to become formidable offensively with an exceptional post game and a mid-range shot that has to be respected. They’d also look for some high-low action with him and Hibbert to become a part of their offensive arsenal. With Russell constantly breaking down defenses and Clarkson slashing and attacking, smiles from head coach Byron Scott would illuminate the arena.

While the future can’t be deemed bright just yet, the trio of Russell, Clarkson and Randle gives Lakers Nation hope that the stars may be aligning in Hollywood.

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