Through two games of the NBA Summer League, Jordan Clarkson has been far and away the standout player for the Los Angeles Lakers, but rookies D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance and Anthony Brown have already showed clear glimpses into why the Lakers drafted the trio in the 2015 NBA Draft. While not technically a rookie, Julius Randle also provided a view into the player he can be during his cameo appearance in the Summer League opener.
On the opening weekend of the Summer League, hoards of Lakers' fans streamed into the Thomas & Mack Center to paint the stands purple and gold. Fans of the LA Lakers are clearly excited by the youth movement on display, as at least six Summer League squad members expect to make the Lakers' regular season roster.
On Monday, the Lakers take on the New York Knicks after going 1-1 on the weekend. Although the Lakers lost the opener, the team rebounded well to beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. In both games, Clarkson looked like the best player on the court, averaging 21 points per game over the opening weekend. While his outside shot did not immediately show returns, Clarkson stepped into his shots with greater confidence and appeared to be a player obsessed with showing improvement.
"I'm still a work in progress," Clarkson said after the Lakers won on Saturday night. "I only got one assist tonight, so I'm going to try to come back and work on that."
Fellow Class of 2014 members Randle and Tarik Black have struggled to find their respective rhythms. Black fouled out with 10 fouls in the opener and grabbed a seat after eight fouls against the 76ers. Randle only featured sparingly in the opener, and the Lakers opted to rest their promising power forward as he slowly makes his return from a broken leg and ankle surgery. Though Randle did not exactly overwhelm in the 21 minutes he managed against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the pro-Lakers crowd shrieked nearly every time he touched the ball early in the contest. When he eventually faced up and drove past his defender before throwing down an emphatic slam dunk in the fourth quarter, fans went nuts.
More than anything, Randle showed rust. However, he still had no trouble getting past his defender and arriving at the rim. His finishing around the basket should improve over time, and the knowledgeable fans in attendance applauded the aggressive play that the young power forward put on display.
As a reminder, Randle is still on 20 years young and is far from a finished product.
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In Saturday's victory, Larry Nance supplanted Randle in the Lakers' starting lineup and energized the crowd with his athleticism on both ends of the court. By most pre-draft evaluations, the Lakers picking Nance at no. 27 was a tad premature. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, the crowd cheering "Lar-ry, Lar-ry" every time Nance made an athletic play seemed to initially confirm that the Lakers' scouting department may have got this pick right.
"Larry Nance plays with energy," Lakers Summer League coach Mark Madsen said after Saturday's win. "He'll go to the glass; he can bring the ball up the court and initiate the fast break. He's a very versatile player."
Nance is known as an energy guy, which was probably the best way to describe Madsen back when he was a player. However, the coach seemed to downplay any similarities between himself and the Lakers' rookie by humbly stating that Nance's potential on the court outweighed his own as a player.
"Larry is a special player," Madsen explained. "Larry is someone who can change the game in a lot of different ways. He can do it on the defensive end--he was player of the year defensively in his region. But then, Larry can make plays on the offensive end."
Brown, who was Lakers' second-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, started both games and managed to have an impact on the defensive side of the ball. He is especially adept at playing the passing lanes and generating fast breaks going the opposite way. As is the case with all the rookies, Brown is still rough around the edges, but his size and athleticism have already proven to be assets for the Lakers' Summer League squad.
The Lakers' no. 2 pick has not exactly awed the crowd and played his competition off the court, but the rookie point guard accounted for nine of the Lakers' 14 assists through two games. The 19-year-old also had 12 turnovers over the weekend and seemed bothered by his mistakes. Russell, however, showed streaks of the special passing ability that separated him from other point guards in the draft. This kid will go through growing pains, and the Summer League is only the start of the process.
On Monday at 5:30 Pacific Time, the Lakers will take on the New York Knicks with Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson expected to be in attendance.
Notes: Undrafted center Robert Upshaw impressed with a few defensive blocks and reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. Jabari Brown did not play in the first two games of Summer League due to an eye injury. Brown expects to wear goggles in his debut on Monday.