When Luke Walton was hired in the middle of the Warriors playoff run to be the Lakers coach almost everybody outside of the Lakers brain trust, those who understood Walton had a gifted coaching career in front of him, were flabbergasted and then they were confused. Walton was the hot young coach and there were a lot of open jobs. Why would he take the Lakers train wreck? All agreed the Lakers had talent but how much? Immaturity rocked the team late in the season when everything went wrong in the Swaggy/D’Angelo friendship. Suddenly everyone was not trusting everyone else. Their roster was incomplete. Jim Buss was making decisions, not a good thing.
The Lakers won 17 games in 2015-16 so at the generous most, for this very inexperienced team, a 28 win season would be a great year. Taking the job meant Walton was walking away from a team that won the most games in NBA history. Would he be willing to endure the misery?
A few months later, the method to Walton’s madness is very, very clear. He has taken a team with a bunch of young guys and a few veterans sprinkled in and asked them to trust one another, share the ball, and because of the collective effort, the Lakers have won 9 games before the month of December. They won their 9th game last year on January 12th. So it is safe to say the baby Lakers are way ahead of schedule, like two months.
The forecasting website 538 predicted the Lakers would win 22 games. That was before the season. Now they have the Lakers up to 35 wins and a 21% chance at making the playoffs.
How has Walton done it?
First, he replaced a dictator and hard ass who was a my way or the highway kind of teacher. That created a lot of friction. The Scott firing and the Kobe retirement was a way of turning the page. Strategically, Walton moved Jordan Clarkson to the bench to bring more firepower to the second unit and Clarkson bought in right away. The Lakers bench unit leads the league with 52 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists. He also stuck rookie Brandon Ingram on the bench, let him play point forward and he doesn’t pull him for mistakes and miserable shooting (37%). Ingram’s defense is his most impressive attribute this early in his young career as he is still learning how to play.
|Lakers||Backcourt (Pts.)||Front Court (Pts.)||Bench (Pts.)||In the Paint (Pts.)||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating|
|2015-16||44.5 (11th)||52.8 (27th)||35.2 (15th)||31.3 (30th)||101.6 (29th)||111.6(30th)|
|2016-17||55.8 (5th)||52.4 (24th)||52.0 (1st)||35.9(24th)||108.3 (9th)||111.0 (28th)|
It was one more summer when the Lakers were unable to move Nick Young and so Walton challenged him in training camp. Under Scott, Young didn’t play. Young couldn’t fit the expectations and attention to detail that Scott demanded. More importantly, Scott didn’t understand that to get the most out of Young, he needs praise not criticism. Mike D’Antoni figured that out early on and Young had his best season playing for D’Antoni.
Under Walton, Young has thrived and can even be seen playing a little off ball defense, something Young has been allergic to for much of his career.
A lot of Warriors ball Walton brought to the Lakers. Obviously the Lakers don’t have the gifted off the bounce scorers of the Warriors but the Lakers hold their own on the offensive side of the ball. They are 4th in pace. 5th in fast break points. 6th in points scored. 6th in field goal percentage. 6th in 3-point percentage. 16th in assists. They move the ball out of necessity. They don’t have any iso talent. They really don’t have gifted professional shooters, just very good ones in Lou Williams and Nick Young. Williams is their leading scorer and he comes off the bench.
Walton had to figure out how to enable two second year players (D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance) and two third year players (Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson) and at the same time keep his veterans happy. He does that by playing ten guys. No one plays more than 30 minutes. There is no star. Sometimes D’Angelo Russell doesn’t play at the end of games. If he is having a game where nothing he is doing is working, Lou Williams stays in. Sometimes Brandon Ingram sits, sometimes he doesn’t. It is the Luke way to decide who has been playing well the entire game. It works on this team but once the Lakers get a couple of bonafide stars, Walton is going to have to readjust.
The biggest beneficiary of Luke Walton’s socialist program is Julius Randle. Randle is a poor man’s version of everything. He can score, pass, rebound and run the offense. He isn’t the defender Draymond Green is nor can he consistently hit a three. But he plays the best when he is on the move. A perfect Randle stat line is 14 points, 9 rebounds 6 assists.
A role player all of his career, Walton’s talent is being able to relate to all different types of players. This Lakers team wants to win for him.
Recently Steve Kerr said,” The Lakers are the only job Luke would have left us for.”
The Southern California kid was offered his dream job and didn’t hesitate to accept it. It is too early in the season to make predictions and Walton himself said he is not thinking about the Lakers making the playoffs, nor is he emphasizing wins and losses; there are more important things to deal with.
“We need to get better every day. You do that by playing hard.”
photo via llananba