Lakers' backcourt creates excitement in summer league

Magic Johnson no longer owns a small share of the Lakers, a choice he made five years ago.

Nor is he on the Lakers' decision-making team, happy to exist on the periphery as an unpaid vice president while tending to his more demanding Dodgers-related duties.

But the Hall of Famer knows basketball talent, specifically at the point guard position. While many in the NBA world were surprised by the Lakers' selection of D'Angelo Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor, Johnson smiled. He liked the Lakers making a slight gamble instead of the safe pick.

"The Lakers need playmakers," Johnson told The Times. "We have to have guys make plays in different ways if we're going to beat Golden State. This is about who we're going to beat. In the West, you've got to keep with Houston, the Clippers, Golden State, San Antonio, and they've all got incredible small guys who can do multiple things. And we needed that small guy that can do multiple things."

Russell completed his second summer league game with the Lakers on Saturday, compiling 14 points and eight rebounds in the Lakers' 68-60 victory over Philadelphia.

But he had seven turnovers and made only four of 15 shots, numbers the 19-year-old knows he needs to improve. He gave himself a "C" or "C-plus" for Saturday's game.

Jordan Clarkson, meanwhile, continued to look every bit the player who averaged 15.8 points and five assists in 38 games as the Lakers' starting point guard last season. He followed up a 23-point game Friday against Minnesota with 19 points against the 76ers.

"I thought Clarkson was getting there," Johnson said of Clarkson's strong end to his rookie season. "With those two together, and then Kobe [Bryant] as well in the fourth quarter, where teams really go small ball, we couldn't really do that. Effectively now, we'll be able to do that."

Bryant's availability and efficiency remain to be seen. He has full range of motion in his surgically repaired right shoulder but has not started shooting yet.

When he went down in January, he had sat eight of his last 16 games for rest purposes. A move to small forward for the upcoming season is likely, opening up the backcourt for Clarkson and Russell.

More Russell means more excitement for Lakers fans, in Johnson's view.

"We needed a point guard with D'Angelo's skill set. He could be a superstar in this league one day if he continues to work at it," Johnson said. "He knows not only how to get the open man the ball but also he can create shots for guys that only the greats know how to do."

Julius Randle sat out Saturday's game, part of his unhurried return from a broken leg last October. He will play Monday against New York.

Larry Nance Jr., the Lakers' other first-round pick, delighted Lakers fans in attendance at Thomas & Mack Center with his hustle plays. There were some chants of "Lar-ry, Lar-ry" as he totaled eight points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.

Okafor had 19 points and 11 rebounds Saturday for the 76ers, who snapped him up quickly with the third pick after the Lakers passed on him.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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