Byron Scott’s tenure in Los Angeles has concluded, and the Lakers look to usher in a new era of winning basketball under the guidance of Luke Walton. There are many things Walton must do to transform the Lakers from fodder back to a perennial playoff team, but here are three I hope to see him do in his first season as Los Angeles’ head man.
1. Utilize more small-ball lineups featuring Julius Randle/Larry Nance Jr./Tarik Black
Thanks to former Lakers head coach Byron Scott’s ancient ideology on how the game of basketball is to be played, Los Angeles scarcely deployed small-ball lineups that featured a duo out of the Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., and Tarik Black trio, which to me is miffing due to the fact that the metrics show that these lineups spawned favorable results for the Purple & Gold.
According to NBA.com/stats, out of all two-man Laker lineups that recorded at least 125 minutes together, the Nance Jr./Randle pairing had the 8th best Net Rating at 4.3 and the 6th best Offensive Rating at 106.8.
The Nance Jr./Black twosome proved to pack a pretty potent punch as well, with a 3.1 Net Rating and a 99.2 Defensive Rating in 177 minutes of action together. Nance Jr. and Black also registered the highest Rebounding Percentage of any two-man Los Angeles lineups that played at least 125 minutes, leading outright in Defensive Rebounding Percentage and tied with Nance Jr./Randle in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
Yes, these sample sizes are minuscule, but the numbers should entice any coach to experiment further to see exactly what it is he may have. Smaller lineups with a frontcourt of Nance Jr. and Randle are feisty enough to fend behemoths off the glass and have the speed + athletic ability to turn things into a track meet for plodding bigs.
As for Black, all Laker fans have been lobbying for him to receive more playing time after being forced to watch Roy Hibbert try his hardest to look like an actual NBA center. The results of that were comical.
Black is an intriguing prospect who could serve as a stopgap at the center position for Los Angeles. He languished on the bench for most of this season after proving in his first year with the Lakers that he was a serviceable big man. He’s a bit undersized for a center, but he compensates for that with great defensive prowess (when he’s locked in,) and solid shot-blocking ability.
Offensively Black specializes in pick-and-roll situations, which coincides perfectly with D’Angelo Russell whom rummaged through different P&R partners throughout his rookie campaign. Black has good hands and is a strong finisher, which makes him a prime candidate (alongside Nance Jr.,) to be the chief harmonizer with Russell out of the P&R.
Also when you begin to think of what type of center you’d like to slot next to Randle, Black is the prototype. He’s low usage, runs the floor, plays defense, can protect the rim and will scrap on each and every possession.
As for the number of minutes Nance Jr. and Randle played together, you’d hope to see an uptick in their time on the floor together, but once examining things through a contextual lens, it’s easy to understand why they rarely were on the court together.
For starters they both play the same position, and both had stints in which they were pegged as the starter over one another. Also Nance Jr. missed a chunk of the year with a knee ailment, curtailing any opportunity the two may have had to play for an extended amount of time as a duo.
2. Run, you know… AN ACTUAL OFFENSE.
When Walton was first hired, he told Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times that he’d plan to institute an offensive system that mirrors what the Warriors have been running since their championship inception.
Luke will run offense more like Golden State, with spacing and motion, he says.
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) April 30, 2016
Whatever Walton does decide to run, it’ll surely be a far cry from the monstrosity of an offense that the Lakers “ran” under Scott, which was essentially a bevy of isolations and sets that stalled out in an instant due to the fact that they were deprived of any type of movement.
In Scott’s last year the Lakers finished last in almost every major offensive statistical category, including field goal percentage (41.4%), three-point field goal percentage (31.7%), assists per game (18 APG), and points per game (97.3 PPG). Los Angeles was also last in Net Rating (-10.7), second to last in Offensive Rating (98.6), and assisted on only 51.3% of their baskets, good enough for third worst in the league.
Is it surprising that the Lakers’ offense never soared above the bottom rungs of the league’s offensive ladder under the tutelage of a guy who scoffed at the importance of the three-point shot? Not at all! Under Scott, especially this season, the Los Angeles launched a steady digest of long-twos, with midrange monsters such as Kobe Bryant, Roy Hibbert (again, trying), Russell and Randle taking a plethora of attempts from 15-19 feet.
Golden State falls on the opposite end of the offensive statistics spectrum and for obvious reasons, but it’s encouraging that Walton plans to mimic what Golden State executes despite the stark contrast in personnel. Fans should salivate over the prospect of the Lakers’ youngsters in a modernized NBA offense, especially one peppered with the pace and space that was absent during Scott’s endeavors.
Much has been made of the Lakers’ inability to secure top-flight talent via free agency these last several offseasons, and many pundits accredited that to the menacing presence of Bryant, whose ego wouldn’t allow him to concede power to another entity before he walked away from the Lakers and basketball forever.
Others suspect that the Lakers’ lure has emasculated due to the fact that players aren’t coaxed by their booming market and big money anymore. Smaller-marker teams can inch closer to dollar amounts that were once exclusive to the Lakers, and they can also use stronger/more experienced rosters as leverage in recruitment.
This summer may determine if it was the former or the latter for Los Angeles.
Walton’s ability to forge relationships with players will be a key component here, and I hope he sells free agents on the fact that it’s now a clean canvas in Los Angeles.
No Kobe Bryant hijack the offense and act as some dictatorial figure. No Byron Scott to bog down on the younger guys and impede their growth. Just a pot full of intriguing ingredients ready to be carefully stirred by a master chef aka a superstar.
From a basketball standpoint, Walton can sell players on the fact that they’ll be in a free-flowing, equal-opportunity offense that’s predicated upon constant man/ball-movement. This is currently a superstar-less team, so the ball won’t be dominated by one player, equal disbursement is important here. And although there will be hiccups as things unfurl, the pieces currently present are promising enough to stomach these growing pains to get to the hopeful end result which is becoming a well-oiled team that has risen from the ruins to resemble a title contender.
I’m not asking Walton to hit home-runs or grand-slams in free agency, but to instead make small moves that will continue to move the ledger in a positive direction and will give vigor to this barren and feeble roster. It’s no secret that current Warriors players Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli are both unrestricted free agents coveting bigger contracts, so it’ll be interesting to see if Walton can use his relations with either one of those guys to pry them away from the Bay.
Both players address glaring needs, as Barnes fills the Lakers’ biggest void (small forward,) gives them a tough defensive presence, some scoring punch on the wing and a smart player with a championship pedigree. Ezeli is an active big man who works hard, runs the floor and defends but has a wayward offensive game. He’s also wrestled with knee issues, which may shoo some suitors away, but the Lakers should still prod around to see if there’s any interest stemming from either Ezeli or Barnes.
Determining whether or not Luke Walton’s first season in Los Angeles was a success or not shouldn’t correlate to the number of games one, but instead gauged by the eye-test. How is the team’s body language? Are there championship qualities being instilled? Are the guys having fun?
Byron Scott’s stint was all about what he didn’t do. Walton’s will be about what he does do in an effort to rectify things in Los Angeles. Hopefully one or two things from my list come to fruition.