The Los Angeles Lakers opened their Summer League session Friday night with an 85-65 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Obviously the results in summer contests don’t mean much, but seeing the development of the team’s young players is extremely important. Last night the young Lakers weren’t just good, they were fun and wildly entertaining. Fans in Los Angeles will love this young core.
The Lakers play in the shadow of the Hollywood sign and in Los Angeles being good isn’t nearly as important as being cool. This group of youngsters led by D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and 36-year-old head coach Luke Walton, are about to be the coolest kids in the NBA.
On Friday night Russell ran the show, dominating along the way. He finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and looked like the star Lakers fans were promised when he was drafted with the No. 2 pick last June. As I stated, numbers and results in Summer League games aren’t important, what mattered was the maturity Russell showed. He recognized mismatches, used his superior size and length to his advantage, drew fouls, zipped passes into tight windows and was fundamentally sound on both ends of the court after an early flurry of turnovers.
The big debut Friday night belonged to the 18-year-old Ingram, who showed supreme confidence in himself on offense and defense. The No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft scored 12 points, had four rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks. He hit 5-of-9 shots from the field and didn’t force anything in more than 25 minutes on the court. While he needs to put on weight, Ingram showed why he was deserving of being the second pick in the draft. His versatility on both ends was apparent immediately. He looked like a star in the making.
Meanwhile, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac surprised the crowd with their contributions. Nance looked like his usual uber-athletic self, but also knocked down some long jumpers and played outstanding defense. He poured in 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots, including this emphatic, highlight-reel rejection of Buddy Hield:
The 19-year-old Zubac looked like he belonged on American soil, showing brilliant touch around the hoop and strength beyond his age. He’s been compared to a young Marc Gasol and you can see why. He had 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes, while also hitting all five of his free throws. The 32nd pick in this year’s draft was impressive in his debut.
None of this means the Lakers are going to win games this season. They are almost certainly not a playoff team. But the years of tearing the franchise down had a purpose, and this collection of young talent is the result. Under the tutelage of new head coach Luke Walton and the stewardship of an excellent veteran leader like Luol Deng, these kids should grow and mature into a really good team. Add in Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, and Los Angeles has a fast-paced, entertaining group to build with.
For now the focus for the Lakers should be to improve and entertain fans. They’ve already shown they know how to accomplish the second part.
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