No one has created more buzz in the Las Vegas Summer League than Lonzo Ball of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks.
They squared off on Sunday night with a spot in the championship on the line.
Ball's been talked-about for months. His father, LaVar, his younger brothers dominating high school hoops for Chino Hills, the growth of the controversial Big Baller Brand and its even more controversial sneakers—you've heard most of it by now. But the 19-year-old's play has backed up all the talk.
A pair of triple-doubles after a rough start has turned heads, with L.A.'s ball movement humming as Ball spreads it around. Heading into Sunday, he averaged 16.4 points, 9.2 assists and 8.4 rebounds while struggling to find his shot, converting 35.4 percent of his attempts from the field and 20.5 percent from deep.
Team president Magic Johnson has raved about him, telling Lakers fans they're "in for a treat":
Smith has been more of a breakout star, having slipped to ninth in the draft due to concerns over his "intangibles." This summer has silenced the naysayers. Before facing off against Lonzo, Smith averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists on 43.9 percent shooting.
He's also shown off Slam Dunk Contest-worthy bounce:
His latest aerial feat came against the Lakers:
On Sunday, Lonzo got the better of DSJ for most of the night, dropping 16 points, 10 assists and no turnovers while sitting on a 22-point halftime lead. A calf injury sidelined him for most of the second half, though. Despite a ferocious fourth-quarter push from Dallas, the Lakers won 108-98.
Los Angeles moves on to face the Portland Trail Blazers, who defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 87-82, for the LVSL crown on Monday. You can find viewing information and a game preview below.
Heading into Sunday, there was some concern Ball and breakout forward Kyle Kuzma would get pulled due to fatigue. Coach Jud Buechler shut that down, per Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll:
"They're young kids. The coaches keep telling me to take them out and I just go 'no, they're going to stay in, they're 20 years old. They're fine. Are you kidding me? They're going all the way. Those are our guys. Absolutely they're going to play. They're young. I think they're enjoying the winning."
Ball and Kuzma certainly didn't look fatigued on Sunday, combining for 25 points 9-of-14 shooting while carrying Los Angeles to a 62-40 halftime lead. But the injury bug reared its ugly head.
Things went downhill when Ball exited the contest in the third quarter with a calf injury. He returned but wasn't himself, finishing with 16 points and 10 dimes.
Portland presents a unique challenge for L.A., especially down low. Caleb Swanigan, drafted 26th overall out of Purdue, is a load on the block. Lakers center Ivica Zubac hasn't shown much ability to slow opposing bigs, so Swanigan should have one of his stronger statistical games. He put up 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds against Memphis.
Before running into the Blazers, the Grizzlies had an ideal summer league. Experienced players like Wayne Selden and Wade Baldwin IV carried the team, averaging a respective 24.6 and 15.8 points ahead of Sunday. Baldwin, an explosive second-year guard out of Vanderbilt, chipped in 7.4 boards, a monumental improvement from his regular-season average of 1.4. His lanky frame should allow him to hit the glass harder than he did, and he's proving capable of doing so.
Baldwin and Selden both came up small in the loss, but second-round rookie guard Dillon Brooks continued flashing potential. He led Memphis with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting in the semifinals loss.
The Blazers had five players reach double figures against Memphis, but so did Los Angeles. And the Lakers' output was more impressive, being that Ball, the catalyst of the run-and-gun offense, was banged up.
The versatile Kuzma went for 24, including five triples, for his third straight 20-point effort. The No. 27 pick out of Utah has been basically unstoppable in Las Vegas, leading Ball to question the teams who passed on him Saturday night:
For what it's worth, Ball told reporters he will "hopefully" be able to suit up tomorrow, per Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver:
If Lonzo does play, expect the Lakers to take home the trophy. The team is just too dynamic with him running the show. Portland's goal should be to slow the game to a crawl, but even then, the Lakers might just outgun the Blazers.
Oh, and brace for "this isn't the only championship we're winning" talk from LaVar. You know that's coming.