The Lakers lost 84-72 to Sacramento to fall to 0-2 in the Las Vegas Summer League on Saturday evening, but assistant Chuck Person isn’t overly focused on the win/loss column when reporting back to coach Mike Brown and GM Mitch Kupchak.
“We’re trying to see who can fill our voids when the regular season starts, see if anybody can crack the rotation and be a contributor when the games count,” said Person. “It’s more about that than results right now.”
One such player trying to prove that he can play with the varsity squad is combo guard Darius Johnson-Odom, the 55th pick in June 28th’s Draft, who has impressed L.A.’s brass particularly on the defensive end. That the Lakers look to such a deep second round pick shows the difference between them and the many organizations who feature lottery picks that will be depended upon to make an impact.
With a need to get playoff-ready performers to compliment the core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and thus a lack of a first round draft pick — let alone a lottery pick — in the past few seasons, L.A. has instead filled the back end of its roster with a bevy of second rounders.
In fact, the summer league squad features five players taken (mostly later) in the second round of the past three seasons: Darius Morris; Andrew Goudelock; Ater Majok; Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre.
Morris and Goudelock proved capable of handling limited minutes during their rookie season. Both flashed signs of improvement at the first two games in Vegas, but neither was able to crack Mike Brown’s shortened playoff rotation. On Friday, the two saw their team dominated by a lottery-loaded Golden State team featuring Klay Thompson (2011 No. 11) and Harrison Barnes (2012 No. 7). Morris in particular was better against the Kings, scoring a team-high 17 points in 24 minutes, while Johnson-Odom’s defense sparked an improved team effort that produced a lead until late in the third.
Goudelock can score at the NBA level and Morris is showing signs of making plays and finishing at the rim with a stronger body, but for L.A.’s needs, DJO’s D may be most appealing.
“He’s defending very well and playing hard,” said L.A. assistant GM Glenn Carraro. “He’s extremely athletic – his numbers were off the charts when we tested him. We think he can guard the quicker point guards in the NBA, and he’s also handling the ball pretty well, so we feel good about where he can go.”
Johnson-Odom’s first action on Saturday came shortly after the 5-minute mark, when he checked in to check Jimmer Fredette, a big-time college scorer who averaged 7.6 points in 18.6 minutes as a rookie on 38.6 percent from the field. Fredette had trouble creating any space with the combo of Johnson-Odom and Christian Eyenga, finishing just 3 for 11.
DJO isn’t tall (he’s generously listed at 6-3), but he’s very strong and quick, a combination that reminds of an early Ron Artest, who moved his feet so well yet also had the strength to dissuade driving lanes.
“You have to have a drive to play defense,” Carraro continued. “It has to be in your DNA, and Darius definitely has it. He doesn’t back down from anyone and that’s great. It’s something we need.”
Johnson-Odom didn’t have as much success on the offensive end, hitting 3 of 10 shots after an 0 for 8 debut on Friday, but Lakers player development coach Phil Handy said he’s a capable shooter technique wise, which is backed up by acceptable shooting percentages in his three years at Marquette. He scored 18.6 points per game in 2011-12, behind 44.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three.
“I was known to be able to score in college, but I want to show everyone at the NBA level that I’m a great defender,” DJO offered. “If I hopefully make the team, I’m going to need to make open shots and good decisions with the ball, but I’m not going to be needed to score. I want to provide an energy boost and guard the best perimeter player.”
Johnson-Odom, who packs 217 pounds into his frame, explained that while he’s always been sturdy, he had a football coach that put him on a lifting program without off days — including on game days — that he found helped him with his general strength and with his shot.
That’s something that helps on D, to the point that Person said he thinks DJO could be used on explosive guards like OKC’s Russell Westbrook or Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
“I feel like I can keep close enough with guys that are bigger or longer to make it hard for them to get shots off, and I also have a long wingspan that I try to use to the best of my ability,” said DJO. “And I’m going to keep getting better.”
Johnson-Odom has three more games to build upon what he’s started in Vegas, and with perimeter defense standing out as a need for the senior squad, he’s off on the right foot.