Just under a month into his professional career, Lonzo Ball has already turned the Los Angeles Lakers into title contenders.
Well, Las Vegas Summer League title contenders, at least. The Lakers will take on the Portland Trail Blazers for the championship Monday.
Ball has been on fire in the desert, backing up the hype with multiple triple-doubles after a disappointing start. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game in six Summer League contests, but he may have already played his last one.
A sore right calf hobbled Ball in the semifinal against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday, and he might be held out of the championship game because of it.
“It is summer league, so it probably is not worth the risk [to push it], but like I said, hopefully I can be out there tomorrow for the championship,” Ball said, per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.
Ball missing out would certainly put a damper on the festivities, but there’s a lot of young talent on display here. There’s a reason both teams have made it to the final. Here’s all the information you need to make sure you catch the game.
Should the Lakers be missing Ball, they’ll rely even more heavily on Kyle Kuzma to carry the offense. The first-round pick’s excellence in six games has been overshadowed by his point guard, but he’s putting up 20.5 points per game of his own on 48.4 percent shooting (45 percent from three-point range).
Kuzma has showcased the ability to get buckets in a myriad of ways slashing, cutting and hitting the three-ball with regularity.
His highlights from the semifinal have a little bit of everything:
While Ball and the Lakers have made all the headlines in Summer League, the Trail Blazers have quietly made an impressive run through the tourney field. The No. 16 seed has shown great chemistry in beating the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds to get to this point.
The Blazers’ synergy was especially on display in the semifinals as they rallied from a 19-point deficit in the second quarter to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 87-82.
The greatest advantage Portland will have against the Lakers is down low. The tandem of Caleb Swanigan and Jarnell Stokes has been difficult for teams to handle. While Summer League is traditionally ruled by guards, Stokes and Swanigan have impacted games, especially on the boards.
In the semifinal, Stokes led the way with 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Swanigan contributed another 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Their work on the boards paved the way to a 41-29 advantage in rebounds for the Blazers.
While Ball has gained recognition for his triple-doubles, Swanigan, a rookie from Purdue, is about to join elite company for his ability to chase down double-doubles, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Swanigan, the 26th pick in the 2017 draft, is obviously having a good summer. The big man has shown the ability to run the floor, a soft touch around the rim, a mid-range game and great positional rebounding.
A lot of how this game turns out will depend on whether Ball plays. The Lakers’ Summer League team is simply a different animal when he is in the lineup moving the ball around.
However, the Blazers are going to be a hard out regardless of Ball’s status.
While he definitely gives them an advantage on the offensive end in terms of pace, the question becomes whether the Lakers defense can defend Swanigan and Stokes.
With a frontcourt that includes Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant, the Lakers aren’t equipped to do so.
Expect Portland to slow the game down, feed the post and come away with a physical win.
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