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Lonzo Ball’s Lakers show promise during Summer League run

Los Angeles Lakers' Lonzo Ball shoots over Los Angeles Clippers' Brice Johnson (10) during overtime of an NBA summer league basketball game, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

After going 2-for-15 from the field in his Summer League debut, there was an abundance of skepticism about Lonzo Ball.

The Los Angeles Lakers rookie had been chastised for his shooting form, and hitting just one of 11 3s in the game seemed to be enough evidence to all but cement him as a probable bust. Five points and five assists on horrible shooting wasn’t the ideal stat line for a player with as much hype as Ball had surrounding him.

Fortunately, teams essentially play daily in Summer League, and Ball quickly put the bad start behind him. In just his second game, Ball became the first player in Summer League history to record a triple-double. In his third game he dropped 36 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds.

On Sunday night, in just 21 minutes, Ball had 16 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers. He was also a game-high plus-17. His propensity to share the basketball helped his team shoot 60 percent from the field, and a blistering 77-percent from 3. With his Lakers set to play for the Las Vegas Summer League Championship tonight, maybe judging Ball after his first game wasn’t fair.

Yet, as great as Ball has played, he’s only half of the story here.

With the Lakers having drafted in the lottery four years in a row, their rebuild is finally showing promise. Second-year player Brandon Ingram only played in one Summer League game, but he dropped 26 points in it. Fellow sophomore Ivica Zubac looks like one of the most polished bigs in Vegas. And Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ other 2017 first-round pick, is averaging 20.5 points per game.

Summer League championship or not, this is exactly what Laker Nation wanted to see over the last week.

Of course it starts with Ball, who’s currently the Summer League’s all-time leader in assists per game. The Lakers’ infectious ball movement is a testament to his court vision and pinpoint accuracy. It has also led to a sped-up pace and a 3-point heavy attack. Summer League may not correlate directly to NBA performances, but this is what Ball did so well for UCLA.

To see Ball get the most out of a roster of non-NBA players is exciting for his professional upside. Replace Vander Blue with the newly-acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’s never played with a point guard as pass happy/unselfish as Ball, and the Lakers backcourt seems vastly improved from last season.

On top of Ball being one of the most impressive rookies this summer, the “veterans” have looked good as well. Players with extensive NBA experience should stand out playing against hopeful NBA players, which Ingram and Zubac have.

Again, Ingram only played in one game, but he was dominant. He got to wherever he wanted to go, whenever he wanted to get there. The lengthy wing showed range on offense, got to the free-throw line eight times, and made a defensive impact with three steals and two blocks.

Zubac’s stats haven’t stood out, but he’s continued to display a refined skillset in the post. Despite missing some easy bunnies set up by Ball, it’s been encouraging to see Zubac stay involved with the sped-up pace, and to see him begin to develop a rapport with the new franchise point guard. In just 20.3 minutes per game, the 20-year old seven-footer is averaging 10.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

We know Zubac will sit behind Brook Lopez next season, but his progress has been noteworthy. Last season saw the big man average 21 points and 9 rebounds in the two games that he logged more than 30 minutes. And despite that incredibly small sample, he shot nearly 10 percent better in games he started as opposed to games he came off of the bench. The more we see him, the better he looks, and that seems to have translated over to the summer as well.

The other reason Lakers fans should feel good about Summer League is Kuzma. The 27th pick in June’s draft, Kuzma came to the Lakers as a potential small-ball power forward, but didn’t have a reputation for his outside shot. Boy has that changed quickly. A 30-percent 3-point shooter in college, Kuzma’s lighting it up, drilling 45 percent of his 6.7 attempts per game.

While the added deep ball has been a plus, Kuzma’s speed and agility have been on full display with Ball. The 6-foot-9 forward has been on the receiving end of several impressive outlet passes, and has finished them with authority.

It’s been refreshing watching the Lakers two first-round picks develop chemistry, but they’ve both excelled individually as well. On top of his team-best 20.5 points per game, Kuzma’s also averaging 5.8 rebounds and 3 assists per game, giving Ball serious competition for team MVP. It’s difficult to be certain about a late first-round pick, but Kuzma looks like he’ll be a rotation player immediately, as well as a source of comfort and familiarity for Ball.

For years, there’s been talk about a bright future for the Laker. Now we’re seeing it. Fitting Caldwell-Pope in between Ball and Ingram gives the Lakers envious length on the perimeter. Ball and Ingram’s ability to create offense should also give Caldwell-Pope the opportunity to improve his 3-point shooting.

In today’s NBA, success begins with a point guard who can facilitate offense for his teammates. Not that Summer League is an indicator that Ball will be able to maintain this excellence against top-flight competition, but his performance and persuasion is definitely encouraging.

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