16 Rings: Summer League Super Stars (Randle and Clarkson)

16 Rings: Summer League Super Stars (Randle and Clarkson)

Postby unpossibl1 on Sun Jul 20, 2014 8:53 pm

Here's a piece I wrote up about the success of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in the Summer League:

The NBA Summer League is an unusual beast. It’s filled with hopes, dreams, skilled players, and horribly executed, ugly basketball. That’s ok though, as no one tunes in to summer ball expecting to see San Antonio Spurs-level offensive rhythm or defensive cohesion. Summer league teams are thrown together with little regard to chemistry or fit and are only given a few practices to come up with a game plan. It’s essentially a few levels above a pickup game (albeit with extremely talented players) in terms of basketball quality.

So no, it’s not pretty, but I love it just the same. Every year the summer league offers skilled players a chance to shine before NBA decision makers (and foreign ones too). It features mostly players without multi-million dollar contracts who are doing whatever they can to make it, which that gives it a uniquely frenetic, desperate vibe.

In some ways it’s similar to college basketball in that the players go at a breakneck pace and compete as hard as they possibly can on every single possession. This certainly isn’t the NBA in January, where you might see players loaf for a game or two. However, the college comparison breaks down rather quickly, as summer league ultimately isn’t about wins and losses nor working together in harmony with a group of guys who have become like brothers. On the contrary, Summer League is all about the individual.

Bottom line, it’s about catching the eye of an NBA team. Any of them, it doesn’t have to be the one that is currently employing the player. The goal is simply to get noticed for having at least one elite skill, whether that’s shooting, rim protecting, ball handling, whatever. If you can do that (and be at the very least respectable everywhere else) then teams are going to take notice. A successful summer league can often mean a training camp invite, which can turn into a pre-season stint, which can turn into a role in the regular season and eventually a long-term contract with an NBA team (aka millions of dollars).

With the big money at stake everyone plays as hard as possible on every single play. These guys are out there playing for their livelihood and it shows. During the process some stand out and move into more serious consideration by NBA teams while others fade into the background and hope to catch on in the D-League or with a foreign team. Some guys make the NBA Summer League a yearly ritual, each time hoping that this is the year that they will finally get the call up to the big leagues.

Fortunately for the Lakers there are a few players on their summer league squad who are turning heads, and doing it because they do possess one if not more elite skills. It couldn’t come at a better time either, as the league’s glamor franchise has found itself in a considerable talent drought.

Most would assume that it would be either Kendall Marshall, who started much of the season for the Lakers last year after a wave of injuries, or Roddy Beaubois, who was once considered an untouchable asset for the Dallas Mavericks, that would be lighting up the summer league. In actually, both of those players have been somewhat disappointing in spite of their edge in experience. No, the most impressive Lakers from this year’s squad have thus far been rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.

Julius Randle
The fact that Randle, the 7th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, looks good playing in Summer League isn’t necessarily a huge surprise. In fact, all of the top picks, minus injured Joel Embiid, have performed well in their respective summer leagues. These are players whose talent levels (and athletic abilities) are well above that of the typical summer league player, and as such they are expected to look very good.

What has stood out about Randle, however, is just how diverse his skills are compared to what we saw in his college days at Kentucky. There Randle was essentially just a power player who was counted on to rebound the basketball and score inside and that was about it. He did those things at a very high level, but still, it did appear that his game was not very well rounded. As a result many compared him to Zach Randolph, another lefty who uses his bulk to get shots off rather than athleticism.


After 2 summer league games though It’s looking like those comparisons may be wrong. In what is admittedly an extremely small sample size Randle has shown the ability to successfully attack the basket off the dribble from the perimeter, often beating his man with a quick first step and respectable crossover (for a 6’9”, 250-pound power forward anyway). In fact he actually looks more comfortable in the face up game than playing as a traditional post-up big, drawing more comparisons to Lamar Odom or Chris Bosh, even though Randle easily outweighs both and is considerably stronger.

The quickness that he displays in taking defenders off the dribble truly is shocking when you see it, as a man with his size and strength just isn’t supposed to be able to move like that. One can’t help but feel bad for defenders who get in his way; it’s like standing on the railroad tracks and trying to stop a train.

***In fact, I’m inspired to start an early campaign for Randle’s official NBA nickname. Kobe is the “Black Mamba”, LeBron James is “the King”, Steve Nash is “the (barely)Walking Dead”. Well, Randle has shown the ability to get to the basket regardless of who is in his way, using a combination of quickness and brute strength. Thus I’m dubbing him Julius “the Juggernaut” Randle.

For the uninformed the Juggernaut is a villain (sometimes hero) from the X-Men who can’t be stopped once he has forward momentum. In the comics he is a complete bad [Swearing is not permitted at Clublakers. You must edit this post prior to submitting.]. He was embarrassingly played by Vinnie Jones in the movie “X3: X-Men United” but let’s just take a cue from “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and erase that entire film from our memories. It’s better that way.

Julius has also showed impressive ball handling skills, often collecting the ball up top beyond the three-point line and then driving past his defender into the middle of the paint. Once he draws a crowd in the middle he kicks the ball out to wide open shooters. In fact, his “point-forward” skills were so impressive that in the fourth quarter both guards Kendall Marshall and Jordan Clarkson played off the ball while Randle completely took over as the point guard. He turned the ball over a couple of times and was probably being asked to do a bit too much (I sincerely doubt he ever plays PG in the NBA) but still, the fact that those skills are there at all was a very pleasant surprise.

To the Juggernaut’s credit (see, it there it is…seamless nickname!) up until these summer league games he hadn’t played 5-on-5 basketball since the NCAA Championship game. This is extremely encouraging because it suggests that he can get exponentially better once he gets into shape and gets the rust off. He also needs to work on his outside jumper, but he’s shown the ability to hit almost out to the three point line in practice. It’s only a matter of time before his outside touch comes around during games too.

The NBA Summer League is an unusual beast. It’s filled with hopes, dreams, skilled players, and horribly executed, ugly basketball. That’s ok though, as no one tunes in to summer ball expecting to see San Antonio Spurs-level offensive rhythm or defensive cohesion. Summer league teams are thrown together with little regard to chemistry or fit and are only given a few practices to come up with a game plan. It’s essentially a few levels above a pickup game (albeit with extremely talented players) in terms of basketball quality.

So no, it’s not pretty, but I love it just the same. Every year the summer league offers skilled players a chance to shine before NBA decision makers (and foreign ones too). It features mostly players without multi-million dollar contracts who are doing whatever they can to make it, which that gives it a uniquely frenetic, desperate vibe.

In some ways it’s similar to college basketball in that the players go at a breakneck pace and compete as hard as they possibly can on every single possession. This certainly isn’t the NBA in January, where you might see players loaf for a game or two. However, the college comparison breaks down rather quickly, as summer league ultimately isn’t about wins and losses nor working together in harmony with a group of guys who have become like brothers. On the contrary, Summer League is all about the individual.

Bottom line, it’s about catching the eye of an NBA team. Any of them, it doesn’t have to be the one that is currently employing the player. The goal is simply to get noticed for having at least one elite skill, whether that’s shooting, rim protecting, ball handling, whatever. If you can do that (and be at the very least respectable everywhere else) then teams are going to take notice. A successful summer league can often mean a training camp invite, which can turn into a pre-season stint, which can turn into a role in the regular season and eventually a long-term contract with an NBA team (aka millions of dollars).

With the big money at stake everyone plays as hard as possible on every single play. These guys are out there playing for their livelihood and it shows. During the process some stand out and move into more serious consideration by NBA teams while others fade into the background and hope to catch on in the D-League or with a foreign team. Some guys make the NBA Summer League a yearly ritual, each time hoping that this is the year that they will finally get the call up to the big leagues.

Fortunately for the Lakers there are a few players on their summer league squad who are turning heads, and doing it because they do possess one if not more elite skills. It couldn’t come at a better time either, as the league’s glamor franchise has found itself in a considerable talent drought.

Most would assume that it would be either Kendall Marshall, who started much of the season for the Lakers last year after a wave of injuries, or Roddy Beaubois, who was once considered an untouchable asset for the Dallas Mavericks, that would be lighting up the summer league. In actually, both of those players have been somewhat disappointing in spite of their edge in experience. No, the most impressive Lakers from this year’s squad have thus far been rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.

Julius Randle
The fact that Randle, the 7th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, looks good playing in Summer League isn’t necessarily a huge surprise. In fact, all of the top picks, minus injured Joel Embiid, have performed well in their respective summer leagues. These are players whose talent levels (and athletic abilities) are well above that of the typical summer league player, and as such they are expected to look very good.


What has stood out about Randle, however, is just how diverse his skills are compared to what we saw in his college days at Kentucky. There Randle was essentially just a power player who was counted on to rebound the basketball and score inside and that was about it. He did those things at a very high level, but still, it did appear that his game was not very well rounded. As a result many compared him to Zach Randolph, another lefty who uses his bulk to get shots off rather than athleticism.




After 2 summer league games though It’s looking like those comparisons may be wrong. In what is admittedly an extremely small sample size Randle has shown the ability to successfully attack the basket off the dribble from the perimeter, often beating his man with a quick first step and respectable crossover (for a 6’9”, 250-pound power forward anyway). In fact he actually looks more comfortable in the face up game than playing as a traditional post-up big, drawing more comparisons to Lamar Odom or Chris Bosh, even though Randle easily outweighs both and is considerably stronger.

The quickness that he displays in taking defenders off the dribble truly is shocking when you see it, as a man with his size and strength just isn’t supposed to be able to move like that. One can’t help but feel bad for defenders who get in his way; it’s like standing on the railroad tracks and trying to stop a train.

Julius has also showed impressive ball handling skills, often collecting the ball up top beyond the three-point line and then driving past his defender into the middle of the paint. Once he draws a crowd in the middle he kicks the ball out to wide open shooters. In fact, his “point-forward” skills were so impressive that in the fourth quarter both guards Kendall Marshall and Jordan Clarkson played off the ball while Randle completely took over as the point guard. He turned the ball over a couple of times and was probably being asked to do a bit too much (I sincerely doubt he ever plays PG in the NBA) but still, the fact that those skills are there at all was a very pleasant surprise.

To Randle's credit up until these summer league games he hadn’t played 5-on-5 basketball since the NCAA Championship game. This is extremely encouraging because it suggests that he can get exponentially better once he gets into shape and gets the rust off. He also needs to work on his outside jumper, but he’s shown the ability to hit almost out to the three point line in practice. It’s only a matter of time before his outside touch comes around during games too.

Jordan Clarkson

Unlike Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson came in as something of an unknown. The Lakers paid $1.8 million in order to draft him in the second round after they were surprised to see him slip in the draft. At 6’5” with a 6’8” wingspan and plenty of athleticism Clarkson has all the physical tools necessary to be a successful NBA combo guard.

However there were questions about his shooting ability, and frankly as a 2nd-round pick no one expected the young Mizzou product to do too much just yet. While he’s clearly raw, Clarkson has vastly outperformed all expectations, putting up 18.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 threes per game. There were rumors that he had vastly improved his shooting stroke following the end of his college career and that appears to be the case.

Clarkson’s length gives him great potential on the defensive end (although he gets lost from time to time) and his energy on the court is hard to miss. Even though the summer league team is a hodge-podge of players thrown together the team almost immediately deferred to Clarkson and Randle on the court. Even Kendall Marshall, who started for the Lakers last year, does this from time to time. It says a lot that Clarkson is being recognized as one of the alpha dogs on the team in spite of not playing a single minute of NBA basketball nor being a lottery pick.

The entire team looks different without Clarkson’s slashing, attacking style and solid outside shooting on the floor. His at-the-buzzer tip in to win the game last night against Golden State was particularly indicative of Clarkson’s abilities, as he quickly rose above two Golden State defenders to get the tip and win the game. The kid just finds ways to get it done, and often in ways that no one sees coming.



It isn’t all good though. For a player who considers himself a point guard his ball handling is shaky and turnovers are high (3.33 per game), while his assists are shockingly low (1.3 per game). There are times when Clarkson gets out of control and his youthfulness shows, but that’ s to be expected.

Overall, Clarkson’s smooth, attacking style has drawn NBA comparisons to the likes of Monta Ellis, although no one expects him to necessarily become THAT good. Personally, Clarkson is essentially what I expected Dante Exum would look like: long, rangy, and raw but with enough talent that he may one day be an impact player. While Exum wasn’t around for the Lakers to draft him it looks as though Jordan Clarkson may give them the next best thing.

Disclaimer
Now that I’ve gushed about how great Clarkson and Randle have been let me add this: it’s Summer League, so take everything with a grain of salt. Try not to lose your minds about any particular player just yet. Plenty of guys have absolutely torn up the SL and then ended up being complete busts in the NBA, such as the immortal Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

The vast majority of players on Summer League teams will never be on an NBA roster, so the level of talent absolutely has to be taken into consideration when evaluating players. It’s a huge leap to go from playing in the Summer League to playing in the NBA preseason, and another leap to go from the preseason to the regular season. Just because a guy plays well in Summer League it does not mean that they are going to become an All-Star. It doesn’t mean that they won’t either, but it’s easy to get too excited about a player’s SL performance and then be let down once the games start for real.

So Laker fans, stop putting Clarkson in your mock regular season starting lineups. He’s not going to be the guy to kick Kobe down to small forward. In addition Randle may contribute a bit this coming season because frankly the Lakers don’t have anyone else at power forward (Ryan Kelly signing pending), but don’t expect him to be an All Star right out of the gate. He’s going to need time to adjust. When rookies are expected to become stars right away bad things can happen to their confidence and development (see Brown, Kwame).

Yes, Clarkson and Randle have looked great but it will likely be a few years before they can truly be counted on to contribute night in and night out. After all, guys like Von Wafer, Derrick Caracter, and Devin Ebanks looked great in Summer League too.

For now just enjoy watching these guys develop and be glad that the Lakers were able to draft them. Be patient, and remember the dark days we are in now only make us appreciate the days in the sun that much more.



Check out the entire article here (including better formatting, pictures, asides, etc.) here: http://www.16rings.com/2014/07/summer-league-superstars.html as well as my other work!
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