Vander Blue Aims to Convert South Bay Success Into Roster Spot

The night before Lakers training camp began, Vander Blue and Brandon Ingram met up to watch some film.

They weren’t checking out tape of opponents, but instead studying the other 18 players that would be joining them at camp.

Blue — a three-year veteran of the South Bay Lakers and reigning NBA G League MVP — essentially scouted out his teammates, looking to gain every edge that might land him on the Lakers’ regular-season roster.

Operating with a “first in, last out” mentality, Blue has been arriving at the UCLA Health Training Center at 8 a.m. — three hours before practice is scheduled to begin.

He’ll get on the court around 8:15 and work out for about a half hour. Then it’s time to get his mind right before actual practice begins.

He will read a bit of his book on meditation (recommended by Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe, who worked with the team on Wednesday) before listening to some music then getting back on the floor.

And on that court is where he has developed chemistry with both of the Lakers’ last two second-overall draft picks: Ingram and Lonzo Ball.

Blue said that he and Ingram work out before practice together and text throughout the day. Meanwhile, he and Lonzo clicked during their run to the Summer League title in July, and the two continued their success during Wednesday’s first scrimmage session of camp, going 3-0 as a team.

“That’s my guy, man,” Blue said of Ball. “I’m just here for him, make sure everything works out for him. I tell him and Brandon Ingram they’re my two little brothers, man.

“(I tell them,) ‘It’s your show. I’m here to be here for you, back you up 100 percent however long I’m here.’ I just want them to know I’ve got they’re back and want them to be their best.”

Teaming up with Ball at Summer League was an important step for Blue, who sought to shake off his label as “just a scorer.”

Sure, he has put up the third-most points in NBA G League history (4,024), but there is more to his game than getting buckets.

He showed some of it in Summer League by making unselfish plays and going back to his roots as a high-school point guard. In particular, he used his elite slashing ability to collapse the defense and free open shooters, instead of taking it to the rack himself.

And he stepped up when it mattered most, pairing 20 points with six assists in the championship game, while Ball was sidelined due to injury.

“I just want people to really realize it’s not all about me,” Blue said. “It might seem like that from what I’ve been doing in my past, but now at a different level with better players and more at stake I know how to make it happen.”

Blue now looks to make the most of an opportunity that has been brewing for three years in the Lakers’ G League system.

He is grateful for the opportunities that South Bay President Joey Buss and GM Nick Mazzella have given him, and that their faith in him grabbed the attention of the Lakers’ front office leaders, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.

But this is an opportunity earned, not given, according to Mazzella.

“He went from being a young kid out of Marquette to still only 24 and a leader in our locker room and kind of the heartbeat of our team,” Mazzella said. “You add that with a guy that’s (practically) led the league in scoring pretty much the last three years straight.”

Now Blue is looking to parlay that G League success into a roster spot with the Lakers. Even as he prepares for the preseason opener just a day away, he isn’t wasting his focus on sentimentality.

He’s not even thinking about putting on the gold jersey or running out onto the floor. It’s not about soaking in the moment; it’s about showing he belongs.

“I’m not really looking at it like that no more,” Blue said. “I’m just trying to compete and fight for a job.”

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