The Lakers wrapped up summer league in Las Vegas on Friday with an 84-78 loss to the Utah Jazz, falling to 1-4 despite carrying at least seven players under contract that will play for the team this upcoming season.
“I think we all expected them to be better, but we all need to understand that they’re still very young and very new to this,” said Coach Byron Scott, who observed the games while assistant coach Mark Madsen ran the summer squad.
“They’ve got a long way to go,” Scott said. “They have a lot of work to do. I’m very happy with the progress they made from game one to game five.”
The Lakers finally got a big game out of Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, who had a game-high 21 points on 10-of-20 shooting.
“I felt like the same shots I was getting all week, I just kind of capitalized and started making them,” said the team’s No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
Russell averaged 11.8 points, 3.2 assists and 5.2 turnovers in the summer league games, shooting 37.7% from the field and 11.8% from three-point range.
How did he view his performance throughout the last week?
“Not good,” Russell said. “I know what I’m capable of, and I know the work that we put in before we came here as a team. I don’t feel like we played to our full potential.”
It’s not uncommon for young players to struggle through summer league. Russell showed flashes of the playmaking ability that won over the Lakers throughout the draft process. His shooting touch was sorely lacking.
“Let’s make this very clear, Russell is not Magic Johnson,” said Scott. “Magic came on the scene, and instantly he’s a Hall-of-Famer. D’Angelo has a way to go, there’s no doubt about that.
“Sometimes when you come out here and you’re the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 pick, you expect to come out here and tear the league up,” he continued. “When guys kind of eat your lunch every now in then, it brings you back down to earth and lets you know that you still have a long way to go. In the long run, this might be the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Russell’s contribution didn’t always show in the box score on Friday. In one sequence, he helped save a sure basket with a defensive stop, then saw his teammates miss three consecutive wide-open looks off of his set-up passes.
Too often he lost assists because his teammates couldn’t finish at the basket, or weren’t expecting a bullet pass.
Other times he’d bounce the ball off his defender’s leg for a turnover, or just throw it into the hands of the other team.
Russell was hard on himself for a multitude of mistakes.
“Being nonchalant won’t cut it, and I kind of get in the bad habit of being nonchalant,” he said.
It wasn’t the speed, strength or athleticism of the opponents that bothered him.
“It’s all mental,” Russell said. “I don’t feel like you need to be the strongest or fastest to get it done. I’ve never been that.
“I try to figure out how to use my mind to my full potential and just get it done. It’s slowing down ... the game comes slow to me, when I just slow it down and relax, it’s easier.”
The Lakers need Russell to be something special, given he’s the prize from the team’s 21-61 2014-15 season.
He could be the starting point guard for the team in October, unless the Lakers bring in another player or give second-year guard Jordan Clarkson the nod.
“I thought he got better tonight,” Scott said. “I thought the first two or three games he was pressing, trying to prove to everybody why he should have been the No. 2 pick instead of just going out and playing.”
“I still think the kid has the chance to be an unbelievable basketball player,” Scott continued. “His poise out there is still second to none, of what I saw of all the guys here at summer league.”
Russell downplayed his draft position as a factor in his play or motivation.
“It’s a lot of pressure if you’re the top pick. If you get drafted, it’s pressure,” he said. “Going No. 2, it doesn’t matter, a lot of guys that have great and successful careers go 30th. I mean look at [Golden State Warriors forward] Draymond Green, for example. I don’t think it really matters.”
Green was drafted 35th by the Warriors in 2012. The team recently re-signed him to a five-year, $82-million contract after he helped Golden State win its first championship in 40 years.
The Lakers’ roster is filled with young players, whose rapid development may be the key to what is likely All-Star Kobe Bryant’s final year.
“We know it’s going to take them some time. I think everybody who understands this game knows that,” Scott said.
Training camp for the 2015-16 season will start near the end of September.