Brandon Ingram will play in the NBA’s summer league, by far the No. 1 reason to watch the Lakers in Las Vegas over the next week or so.
Reason No. 2 would be to gauge the development of D’Angelo Russell.
He was up and down as a rookie last season, losing his starting job after 20 games, getting it back after the All-Star break and then getting badly entangled in the surreptitious Nick Young video incident.
It’s been almost three months since the Lakers’ season ended. How will Russell look when summer league play begins Friday against New Orleans?
“I’ve been grinding, man,” Russell said Wednesday. “I’ve been in the gym, trying to get more consistent on making shots, developing a better post game.”
He set a Lakers rookie record for three-pointers in a season (130) and also had an eight-game run starting in late February in which he averaged 23.3 points and 4.8 assists. His overall numbers, though, were only fair: 13.2 points and 3.3 assists a game. Nothing outstanding for the second pick in the 2015 draft, but also no reason to write off a teenager as a bust.
Lakers Coach Luke Walton said he sensed Russell’s attempts to improve.
“D’Angelo has been great since I’ve been down here,” he said. “He’s been at the gym every day, at least twice a day, sometimes coming back at night.
“He wants to get better and for a young point guard to have that type of open mind and be willing to come to the gym … it’s exciting for a coaching staff.”
Walton likes that Russell took responsibility when making a bad play during summer league practices this week. Accountability is important to the new Lakers coach.
Walton, however, has also told Russell to limit his turnovers. There were too many of them, he indicated.
The Lakers play five to eight games in summer league, depending on how they do in its playoff format.
Ingram makes his very unofficial debut Friday (it’s only summer league) after picking up plenty of compliments at practice this week.
Some of them came from Russell.
“He’s a mismatch all over the floor inside and out. He’s just got God-given talent that you really can’t teach,” Russell said. “His length, his height, skill — everything about him. I feel like the sky is the limit with that guy.”
Russell shared an anecdote from a scrimmage Wednesday.
“His length is crazy,” Russell said. “I felt like I was past him and I stopped to shoot and I airballed. I was curious, did he block it? And he was like, ‘Yeah, I blocked that.’ I was like, ‘You were nowhere near me!’ ”
Larry Nance Jr. also will play in summer league, spending the last few months working on a three-point shot. Walton also wants him to move the ball downcourt after taking a defensive rebound, a concept Julius Randle often employed last season.
Nance Jr. has “been great at leading the break in transition,” Walton said.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Lakers added another reserve point guard a day after acquiring Jose Calderon from Chicago.
Marcelo Huertas said on his Instagram account he would sign a two-year contract to return to the Lakers. A restricted free agent, he averaged 4.5 points and 3.4 assists in his first NBA season.
Huertas, 33, created some crowd-pleasing plays with his sharp passing but couldn’t consistently score and struggled defensively.
Clarkson, Deng eager
Two players signed by the Lakers sounded optimistic about the future.
“I’m really excited — a new beginning with the young guys that are here and having a coach like Luke, you just feel like you’re almost drafted again,” forward Luol Deng told TWC SportsNet.
Deng, 31, signed for four years and $72 million after spending the last two years with Miami. Among other things, he will be looked upon for leadership on a team overflowing with young players.
“Playing [against] the Lakers twice and watching them throughout the season, you could see the struggles there but you could also see the talent,” Deng said.
Jordan Clarkson was also upbeat after re-signing with the Lakers for four years and $50 million.
“I’ve been here through two tough seasons. I want to be part of this process when we start winning games and stuff again and hopefully win some championships,” Clarkson told TWC SportsNet.