The Lakers faced the Clippers on Sunday night and it felt like a little more than just a normal Summer League game, considering the cross-town rivalry between the teams and it being one of the last basketball games in Las Vegas after two weeks of nonstop action. The Cavaliers and Rockets had already won their semifinal games earlier on Sunday, punching their tickets to the Championship game which will conclude the Summer League on Monday, leaving Lakers vs. Clippers as the final game of the night on ESPN2. A game that had numerous lead changes and stayed close for its entire duration, the Lakers and Clippers both wanted to end the Summer League on a high note, every possession being played with intensity and importance. In the end, the Lakers were able to come out on top despite an impressive performance from Clippers Xavier Moon, who finished with 21 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds on Sunday.
With Jalen Hood-Schfino and Max Christie sitting out (who I will get into later in this article), Cole Swider, L.J. Figueroa, and D’Moi Hodge stepped up to combine for 67 of the team’s 104 points as the Lakers won 104-103. Moon missed the game-tying 3 with 5.5 seconds to go before the Lakers missed two free throws, giving the Clippers another chance to tie the game. After a foul that stopped the clock, Matt Morgan hit a 3 with .4 secs to go to tie the game before the Clippers committed a foul on before the in-bound pass that allowed for Swider to hit the game-winning free throw. Considering how exciting that game was, and what it meant to a lot of the guys on the court fighting for training camp invites, it would have been amazing to not call that final foul and let the exhilarating game go to overtime. However, the Lakers ended their Summer League on a high note, while the Clippers fell just short of an impressive ending. Nonetheless, the Clippers have a lot to like going into training camp.
Clippers prized first-round pick Kobe Brown was coming off of a 35-point performance that ended up being the Clippers highlight of the Summer League, and was looking for an encore scoring 6 quick early points in 6 minutes before being removed from the game with an ankle sprain. Obviously, that was a huge blow to the Clippers chances on Sunday night, but they still had Moon, who has been one of the best players in the Vegas Summer League averaging over 19 points per game on high efficiency from the floor. Moon had a 26 point game that led the Clippers to an impressive 90-80 win over the Kings last Wednesday and made the most of this NBA Summer League circuit. Because of his stellar play and ability to lead the team to victories, Moon should be given a serious look in training camp to not only make the final roster, but get rotational minutes on one of the deepest teams in the NBA.
As for Brown, his 35-point performance against the 76ers was one of the more impressive games for any player all Summer League. Brown made 7 out of 10 3-point attempts, pulled in 8 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, and had 4 steals and 2 blocks while playing lockdown defense as well. A lot of Clippers fans were skeptical of the selection of Brown with a first-round pick, considering he’s 23 and more of a finished product than a guy like Leonard Miller, who is 19 and was available at the time.
However, in my Clippers and Lakers draft grade article that I published following the NBA Draft, I noted that selecting Brown was exactly what the Clippers needed if they want to continue to contend next season. Brown is just 6-6, but is a 3-level scorer, can defend multiple positions, and can even play the small ball power forward or center if need be, especially when Ivica Zubac and Mason Plumlee are resting. Brown also single-handedly led Missouri to a lot of upset wins in the SEC last season, and his innate ability to do every little thing right and contribute to winning will be essential to the Clippers if they want to move past the underwhelming endings of seasons past.
As for the Lakers, D’Moi Hodge put together a dominant NBA Summer League performance knocking down 7 out 11 3-pointers and adding in 5 steals and 5 rebounds in the Lakers win on Sunday night. The two-way standout signed with the Lakers as an undrafted free agent following the NBA Draft and looks the part to become another diamond in the rough for the Lakers. It wasn’t just Sunday’s game that Hodge went off in, as he had multiple 3PT shooting expeditions with 5+ made 3-pointers and great defense, which got him coined on NBA Twitter as a “KCP Clone,” KCP standing for two-time NBA Champion Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
And with KCP being one of the prototypical 3 and D championship role players in basketball (we saw that in 2020 with the Lakers and last season with the Nuggets) the Lakers should give Hodge a serious chance at making the final roster in training camp. Besides Jared Vanderbilt and the newly signed Gabe Vincent, the Lakers don’t have a lot of reliable perimeter defenders and Hodge should certainly be able to hold his own against top tier NBA players on defense. Add in his consistent 3-PT shooting and we could see Hodge possibly playing big playoff minutes next May if he continues to show out when training camp begins.
Colin Castleton was yet another undrafted gem for the Lakers that showed out in Summer League, finishing with 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists on Sunday night. Not only has Castleton showed an ability to score, especially off of the pick-and-roll (he averaged over 14 points per game on high efficiency), but he has a natural ability to make the extra pass and find open teammates, even from the post position. He didn’t block as many shots as people wanted him to in the Summer League (considering he averaged 3 blocks per game at Florida last season), but he showed enough to be considered for one of the final roster spots when training camp begins in the Fall.
6-9 sharpshooter Cole Swider continued to knock down 3’s with efficiency this time around in Summer League (he shot over 40 percent from 3 in back-to-back years now in the NBA Summer League) and his secondary shot creation improved. Unlike last summer where Swider primarily was a catch-and-shoot marksman, he showed a variety of extra moves including a pump fake and two dribbles to the rim for a layup and a one dribble mid-range pull-up off of the pump fake 3-pointer. I also saw more assertiveness on defense for Swider, calling out switches and being more vocal on defense. Now Swider may never be a high-end defender, but he fits alongside LeBron James and Austin Reaves perfectly with his catch-and-shoot reliability and high IQ.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, the Lakers first-round pick in this year’s draft, didn’t have the best Summer League to say the least, consistently struggling with efficiency (he had numerous games where he couldn’t knock down shots including a 3-17 shooting performance in his final Summer League game against the Grizzlies on Friday). Hood-Schifino did show a natural feel in the pick-and-roll game with Castleton, but too many times put his head down and forced up tough shots when others were open. He has a killer instinct and a lot of confidence, wanting to put his team on his back at all times, but he needs to learn when to make the extra pass and play a little less selfish. Hood-Schifino was never a great 3PT shooter in college, and it showed over the last few weeks. Unless he puts in a ton of work in the offseason with developmental coach Phil Handy, then Hood-Schfino may be more of a long-term project and could see extremely limited minutes as a rookie.
The Lakers biggest highlight of NBA Summer League was Max Christie’s improvements on both ends of the floor. Christie did not play against the Clippers on Sunday due to a hip issue, but he already has made a big statement over the last few weeks with numerous 20+ point performances. Christie averaged 19 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game over the course of the Vegas Summer League and has solidified himself as a guy who could move up in the rotation next season.
However, It wasn’t just the scoring that stood out for Christie over the last few weeks, it was his improved ability to handle the ball as a 3-level scorer and playmaker. Christie was consistently knocking down 3’s (well over 40%) and getting to the rack and drawing fouls, but he also showed that he can draw defenders and find the open man when needed to. Add in his defense that incrementally improved throughout last season and another few months of development work before training camp, Christie will now have a lot of expectations on him to take a 2nd year leap on a Lakers team trying to compete for a title.