While everyone has been buzzing about Lonzo Ball at the Las Vegas NBA Summer League — and with good reason, he earned that MVP award — people around the league were noticing Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma made it to the All-NBA Summer League second team, then in the championship game Monday night took over and dropped 30 points and 10 rebounds to lift the Lakers past the Portland Trail Blazers 110-98.
Summer League titles don’t mean much of anything (Chicago won last season), but for a Lakers organization under new management and looking to bring hope to a fan base that has seen the worst four-year run in franchise history, this win comes at a great time. As did the fact the Ball looked like a guy who might become a cornerstone for the Lakers going forward.
Kuzma was the Lakers’ first round pick at No. 27 this past draft, a power forward out of Utah. Kuzma has a game built for glorified pickup games of Summer League — he is athletic with a versatile offensive game, and he thrives in transition, and his jumper was falling in Vegas. Whether he can bring that to the regular season, and defend well enough to stay on the court against NBA players, remains to be seen. But Kuzma made his case for consideration in Las Vegas — his style of play is what Luke Walton wants in a power forward.
The Lakers also had Matt Thomas shoot 5-of-5 from three on his way to 23 points.
Portland got 25 points from big man Caleb Swanigan, the first-round pick out of Purdue whose energetic and athletic game translated well to Summer League (much like Kuzma’s game did). He was an All-NBA Summer League First Team player, and looked it in the title game. Jake Layman added 21 points for Portland.
The Blazers had a strong Summer League, not just because of the finish but because of the play of Swanigan, who looks like he could get minutes in the fall (and ease the pain of Collins needing at least one season to develop).
Lonzo Ball electrified the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
He filled the building with Lakers fans who came out to see the guy hyped as a franchise changer. He then showed the hype about his game IQ and passing skills were spot on — he led the Summer League in assists at 9.3 a game. The numbers don’t do justice to what he did for that Lakers squad that made it all the way to the Summer League championship game (which he will sit out with a calf strain) — his passing infected the other players as they ran the court and moved off the ball with real energy. He changed the dynamic of the team, putting up 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game — he had two triple-doubles in Las Vegas.
All that earned him the Summer League MVP award, it was announced Monday. It was a good call.
Ball needs to get his shot to fall consistently, and it’s going to be hard to pull off some of the passes he made in Las Vegas against smart and long NBA defenders, but if he can have the cultural change on the Lakers team that he did in Summer League the franchise is headed in the right direction.
Being named MVP is a good sign, although like with everything Summer League be careful about reading too much into this honor. Look at its history. Damian Lillard shared the award with Josh Selby back in 2012, and since then the MVPs have been Jonas Valančiūnas, Glen Rice Jr., Kyle Anderson, and Tyus Jones.
The NBA also announced the All-NBA Summer League Teams on Monday.
MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League First Team
Lonzo Ball (LAL)
John Collins (ATL)
Josh Jackson (PHX)
Dennis Smith Jr. (DAL)
Caleb Swanigan (POR)
MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Second Team
Cheick Diallo (NOP)
Bryn Forbes (SAS)
Kyle Kuzma (LAL)
Wayne Selden Jr. (MEM)
Jayson Tatum (BOS)
It doesn’t matter what shoes he wears tonight, Lonzo Ball isn’t playing.
He left Sunday’s Las Vegas Summer League semi-final game in the third quarter with what was called “calf tightness, , ” and now the team has officially ruled him out for the championship game Monday night against Portland.
This is not a surprise, and it’s the right thing to do. Ball has shown plenty in Summer League, he is the team’s starting point guard come the regular season, and he has shown the potential to be a guy who can alter the course of the franchise — there’s no reason to push an injury to win Summer League. Winning this banner doesn’t matter (the Bulls won it last year, how did that set them up for the season?).
Both Josh Hard and P.J. Dozier are out for Los Angeles as well. The Lakers will lean on Kyle Kuzma — he has averaged 20.5 points per game to lead the team in Las Vegas — and Vander Blue to get the title.
Ball averaged 16.3 points and 9.5 assists per game in Summer League, and his court vision and IQ — pushing the ball with passes — changed the dynamic of the Laker squad. Players ran the court, moved off the ball, and knew if they worked hard they would get rewarded with looks. Ball also struggled with his shot, shooting 38.5 percent overall and not impressing from three, and he needs to improve that because NBA defenses will make him a scorer to prove he can do it. Bottom line is, he was one of the most exciting players in Summer Leag and a guy that showed a lot of potential. No reason to risk that for a Summer League game if he’s not right.
LAS VEGAS — Usually, by Monday night of Summer League, the crowds of fans have started to thin out a little, the people who came to town to see a top pick headed home after the weekend.
Not this Monday, the Thomas & Mack arena is filling up to the top levels because the Lakers are playing…
But not with Lonzo Ball. The No. 2 pick and biggest draw at Summer League suffered a mild groin strain and will not play Monday, the team announced earlier in the day.
Which will disappoint some fans who wanted to see him renew his college rivalry with the Kings’ De'Aaron Fox. Maybe including Fox, although he was smart enough to pull his tweet back (as if you can actually do that).
Ball’s injury is nothing major, he got in a workout according to Mike Trudell, but the Lakers are being cautious. Which a lot of teams are with high picks at Summer League.
The Lakers also are not playing Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart.
It’s that point in Summer League, expect a lot of teams to pull star players and not risk injury.