After what feels like an eternity, Los Angeles Lakers basketball is back in action on Friday evening—well, at least they’re back in action in Las Vegas, NV for 2016 NBA Summer League.
While Summer League technically doesn’t mean a great deal for the Lakers or any of the other teams that are competing in Vegas or have competed in either Orlando or Utah leading up to this point, there is still plenty that can be learned and plenty of things to watch. In fact, that’s truer for the Lakers than most.
Even with their focus of adding veterans potentially at the end of their prime in free agency, the Lakers are still a team whose primary value and future is predicated on their young players. As fate would have it, many of those young players will be in action at Summer League in Vegas.
Obviously it’d be great to see the entirety of the young core in action out in the desert, but Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson will be sitting this one out. Even still, the Lakers will get to see how many of the players they’re banking the future on will be in action and there will also be players getting the shot to prove that they deserve to occupy the 15th roster spot in Los Angeles.
With all of that in mind, these are the five things everyone should be watching with the Lakers at NBA Summer League.
5. The Forgotten Sophomore
One of the big things that many people might be overlooking for the Lakers heading into Summer League given the excitement of the two rookies coming in and the bigger names that will be playing is that their second round pick from 2015 in small forward Anthony Brown will also be coming to Vegas and that’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
Brown’s role throughout his rookie season in Los Angeles fluctuated even more than the roles of the likes of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle that infuriated the majority of the fans. There were stretches—usually when Kobe Bryant was nursing an injury—that he was in the starting lineup and relied upon to be a solid role player while there were other times in the season where Brown was playing with the D-Fenders in the D-League. That being said, it’s kind of hard to judge his rookie year overall.
What can be definitively said, though, is that Brown’s offensive game left a lot to be desired. Despite hopes that he could be a three-and-D player in the NBA, his three-point shooting was unreliable at best while he did in fact show promise on the defensive end of the floor, save for normal rookie growing pains. Summer League will now be a chance to see if there’s been any noticeable improvements to this point and where he needs to spend the rest of the offseason working.
4. Last Year’s Final Cut
If you ask most people who were keeping up with the Lakers in the preseason last year and watching the final roster cuts, the consensus would likely be that Jabari Brown was the final cut made from the Lakers roster in favor of bringing back veteran small forward Metta World Peace. Brown subsequently spent most of the last year playing in the D-League while World Peace was a warm body with little upside on a 17-win team.
Now it’s looking like Metta won’t return in any kind of playing capacity and the Lakers still have one spot left to fill on a 15-man roster given what their current contract situation looks like. And considering how close Brown was to making the roster last season, you have to believe that a strong showing at Summer League would go a long way to putting him in the good graces of the coaching staff and thus the front office.
Brown will likely be prominently featured alongside Russell in the backcourt when the Lakers put out their featured lineup, which should be quite interesting to see how he performs as the pseudo-Jordan Clarkson in the Summer League system of the Lakers. Regardless of role, though, watch his performance as it could determine his future with the roster.
3. Just How Ready is Zubac?
Coming into the 2016 NBA Draft, Ivica Zubac was considered a pretty easy first round prospect that many people expected to be selected in the 20-25 range. However, the youngster’s insistence to come over to the NBA this year caused many teams to shy away from drafting him, thus leaving him available for the Lakers to nab at No. 32. Now the big Croatian national will head to Vegas with the Purple and Gold with a great deal to prove.
Obviously the big man has tremendous size and girth for a player of just 19 years old, standing at 7-1 and being listed at 265 pounds. And by all accounts, the center has great skills for a player with his size at his age. However, Summer League will be the first time that the second round pick has played against this level of competition—even if it is just Summer League.
Subsequently, Lakers fans and the organization will start to get a better picture of just where the big man is in terms of his skills at an NBA level right now, where he needs to work to develop, and even what kind of role he can play for the team immediately this season behind Timofey Mozgov. This is going to be a big week and a half for Zubac as he could really prove a lot of things and only get Lakers fans even more excited about having him along for the ride.