SAN DIEGO — It took eleven years for Marcelo Huertas to excel on the hardwood in Spain before it became good enough for an NBA team to offer him a contract. It took two weeks before Huertas healed enough from a strained right hamstring before he could show the Lakers’ brass what he could do against an NBA opponent. And it took only one NBA game for Huertas to leave a positive impression.
In the Lakers’ 85-70 victory against Golden State on Saturday that ended with 2:16 left in the third quarter, Huertas posted four points and six assists in 12 minutes off the bench. As a 32-year-old Brazilian point guard, Huertas made up for lost time by accelerating his familiarity with teammates and improving his chances with staying on the roster on a non-guaranteed contract.
“It’s important to know how each of them play so I can find them on the court,” Huertas said. “I’m a guy that is pretty unselfish. I like to share the ball and make other people happy. If I get them happy, they’re probably happy back at me.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott reported feeling “very happy with the way he played.” Scott praised Huertas’ “energy, leadership and experience.” And Scott complimented Huertas for doing “a real good job of directing the offense.”
Huertas showed that in various ways.
He zipped passes with smooth delivery to the corner side of the perimeter that set up open 3-point shots for forwards Nick Young and Ryan Kelly. Huertas threw a touch pass to Young for another open jumper. Huertas found backup center Robert Sacre for a wide open dunk after he dove toward the basket.
“He’s a true point guard in every sense of the word where he’s looking to set his teammates up,” Scott said of Huertas. “I think you guys saw that in the 12 minutes where he had command of the offense and was telling guys where to go. He was setting guys up. That’s what I saw in training camp.”
Hence, none of this really surprised Scott. But the Lakers’ coach still noted that “sometimes when the lights are a little bit brighter, some guys can’t handle it.”
Did Huertas show some butterflies when he stepped on the floor in the second quarter and airballed a floater? He shook his head no. After all, Huertas took two other floaters that splashed into the net.
“I was trying to make a team play and I had an open shot,” Huertas said. “It came a little short. I played my own way. I’m not going to be scared because something goes wrong in a game. I have to run the team. If I have to shoot again, I’ll shoot again. If I have to make the pass, I’ll always try to read the best situations for my teammates.”
The only thing that left Huertas what he called ” a little scared” entailed playing on the Valley View Casino FLoor that he described as “really slippery.” After pre-game warmups, Huertas said he “completely forgot it and played basketball.” But he sounded relieved the Lakers and Warriors stopped playing basketball late in the third quarter.
“It’s not worth it to have someone injured before the season starts because we don’t have the right conditions,” Huertas said. “I know everyone wanted to see a whole game and I felt bad for it. But for the sake of the players, I think it was a smart decision.”
It also appeared a smart decision for the Lakers to sign Huertas. Scott liked the move so much that he conceded it’s “nothing out of the realm of possibility” of Huertas starting over No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell during the 2015-16 season.
But Huertas still centered on the present, basking in his first NBA game after staying patient for that moment to happen.
“I had to wait so much for this,” Huertas said. “I just tried to have as much fun as I could and I tried to run the team on the court.”