If you had the chance to walk through the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on Friday evening, you certainly would have caught the vibe. The nearly sold out arena was buzzing in anticipation of rookie Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA Summer League debut, creating an atmosphere more fitting for an opening round playoff game than a midsummer exhibition.
The Laker faithful erupted into cheers at the first sight of Ball coming out of the tunnel. They took selfies with his father, LaVar Ball, as he made more bold proclamations. And they even boo’ed former Laker D’Angelo Russell when the arena camera showed his face on the big screen.
Though the 96-93 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers marked the beginning of what many hope is an illustrious career for Ball, the matchup was an opportunity for California basketball fans to get a glimpse of what the future may hold for two franchises currently undergoing massive overhauls.
With players like Brice Johnson trying to carve out spots in the Clippers’ rotation, and Lakers rookies Thomas Bryant and Kyle Kuzma looking to prove they belong in the league, we graded how some of both teams’ prospects did on Friday night.
Los Angeles Lakers
Though he’s still likely a long shot to make the 15-man roster, Bryant definitely earned some admirers with his play on Friday. He came off the bench aggressive, hitting a three-pointer on his first touch of the game. But his activity inside of the arc is what made his 13-point, five-rebound performance so impressive.
He had a pair of offensive boards, including a booming first half tip-dunk, and ran the floor extremely well. With Lonzo Ball helping get the ball up the floor as quickly as possible, Bryant benefited from Ball and Brandon Ingram penetrating then dumping the ball down to him on the block for easy dunks and layups.
With his physicality and motor, look for Bryant to continue to be a force as the Summer League progresses.
Kuzma’s biggest asset is his versatility, which he put on display on Friday evening. After corralling a rebound in the first quarter, Kuzma drove the length of the court and finished through contact to get his first points of the game. But on both offense and defense he occasionally looked out of position, costing his team points on both ends of the floor. Regardless, his energy was a positive for the Lakers as he added nine points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block.
Nobody thought that the first play of the game would be Lonzo Ball’s sole highlight. But that’s the kind of night it was for the 19-year-old point guard. After throwing a beautiful lob to Brandon Ingram to start the game, Ball proceeded to shoot 2-15 from the field, including 1-11 from three. Though he struggled with his shot, Ball was still able to impact the game with his court vision. He pushed the ball with purpose, even sparking fast breaks off of made baskets.
But, his struggles to score as well as his inability to keep opposing point guards from penetrating the paint were key factors to his team’s loss.
Ingram was by far the most polished player on the floor on Friday. He sprayed contested fade-away jumpers from all over the court. He got himself into the paint and finished through contact. And he pushed the ball up the floor, using his length and vision to drop passes into his big men’s pockets. And when it mattered most, Ingram got the Lakers the bucket they needed to tie the game at 87-87 in the fourth quarter. Though a cramp forced him to sit out overtime, look for Ingram to be ready to go against the Celtics on Saturday evening.
Los Angeles Clippers
Thornwell’s NBA Summer League debut couldn’t have gone better. He dropped 26 points on just 13 field goal attempts, and played with a level of physicality the Clippers have been sorely lacking for the last few seasons. He got to the rim with ease against the Lakers’ defense, effectively using his body to rack up 18 free throw attempts in the process.
Though he struggled with his outside shot, going 0-4 from beyond the arc, he played a well-rounded game that saw him grab five boards and a pair of steals.
The 2016 first round draft pick dominated against the Lakers, especially in the second half. He scored eight fourth quarter points, including a thunderous base line jam after spinning past Lonzo Ball on the block. Johnson finished with 23 points and seven rebounds on 66% shooting, proving that when he’s on, he has the potential to be one of the better young forwards in the league. Though he flashed his versatility, hitting a few hook shots and close range jumpers, he was at his best when he put his head down and got to the rim. Defensively, he did a solid job patrolling the paint, locking down Lakers center Ivica Zubac.
Though the 25-year old Marshall isn’t quite an up-and-coming prospect, he showed how valuable his experience can be to a team like the Clippers. Marshall managed the game with sage-like method, accounting for 11 of the Clippers’ 13 total assists. Not the quickest player, he used his savvy to get into the paint, where he rarely made the wrong decision. Throughout the game, the Clippers offense was noticeably smoother with him running the point, which bodes well for his chances to make the final roster.