On Playing the Young Guys…

Darius Soriano —  February 15, 2017

The Lakers lost a close game to the Kings on Tuesday night, breaking some fans hearts on Valentines Day. For Shame! All jokes aside, after the contest I took to the twitter machine and said a few things which lit my mentions on fire:

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. I also wasn’t exactly mad either. It was more a sense of indifference, a feeling I felt for long stretches of the previous two seasons but not much (if at all) this one. So, it was all very familiar and I was trying to reconcile that with myself. At the end of it all, I determined to look towards Wednesday’s game and go from there. No reason to fuss over this one, I thought.

And I still think that, but, after sleeping on it, for different reasons. This is an excerpt from NBC Los Angeles’ post game report:

Neither Julius Randle nor D’Angelo Russell played a single fourth quarter second of Tuesday’s narrow 97-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings, as Lakers coach Luke Walton opted to go with the group that brought him back from down 13 points earlier in the game.

“Actually, Luol (Deng) was doing a good job, too, but I wanted Brandon (Ingram) to get those final three minutes of a close game type of thing,” Walton explained that he decided his 19-year-old lottery pick could learn from being on the court at the end of an NBA game that still hung in the balance.

And more:

However, this selective favoritism led to the natural questions about whether the Lakers’ coach views end of game experiences for 20-year-old D’Angelo Russell differently than he views those same experiences for Ingram.

“This is Brandon’s first chance at it,” the coach explained. “So, every chance we get to get him to feel what it’s like guarding different players, being in when you’re down 15, being in when you’re up 15, a one-point game with two minutes to go at home versus the road–all that at this level, he hasn’t been a part of.”

Walton even made a point to explain that Ingram feeling the physicality of the NBA at every opportunity during the season would be important to the former Duke Blue Devil during his off-season workouts.

“D’Angelo knows what it’s like; he’s played all last year and this year,” Walton contended Ingram’s minutes on the court as a rookie carried greater weight than Russell’s minutes on the court as a sophomore. “He’s been in clutch games. He’s been in blowouts, so he has that experience.”

I know quotes like these might make people more angry. The article goes on to explain that Walton “made a point to say that more minutes on the court would also obviously benefit Russell’s development but pointed out that third-year Jordan Clarkson being on the court for the duration of the fourth quarter also helped that guard’s development.”, but that might do little to soothe people’s anger.

Again, I get it. Anyone who actually watched last year knows that Russell/Randle were jerked around plenty last season and it wasn’t until the final 10-15 games of a 17 win season that they saw their minutes jump and that they got to close games almost without conditions. In other words, saying any of the team’s young guys — but especially Russell and/or Randle — have experience in these areas as a way of deflecting criticism for decisions to hold them out now can ring hollow. Especially to people who cursed end of game situations in those previous years mirrored those of Tuesday.

What Walton’s quotes also highlight to me, however, is the lingering issue of the team having a bunch of young players. Maybe too many. I mean, Ingram, Nance, and Clarkson were on the floor playing meaningful minutes in a close game. Their development matters too, right? We want them to know the pressure of close games, to try to find ways to make “winning” plays, to be able to play through mistakes, to have film to evaluate on what they did right and wrong in those situations in order to learn.

I understand the counter to that is that none of those players are as important as Russell (or at least none of them besides Ingram), and in many ways that is true. But I would also argue that the big picture analysis which says Russell’s long term viability in those situations should overshadow some of the other young players should also acknowledge that those other young players developing also matters. And the coach must make decisions with all of those things in mind, not just the latter or the former.

One can argue or critique how good a job Walton is doing of that. One could also point out Lou Williams role in all this and how him being a real focal point gums up this analysis entirely — remove him and things are cleaner (something which I have already pointed out previously). But, even if Lou weren’t around, some of these issues would still remain and would need to be worked through. It’s just math.

The Lakers have 7 young players (25 or younger) who we would all like to see a lot of minutes. Not all of them can or will be able to get the type time we’d all like. That doesn’t mean I’ve resigned myself to Russell and Randle sitting out entire 4th quarters — no, that needs to change. But I can understand that in some instances, Clarkson might play over Russell and Nance or Zubac or Ingram might play over Randle. Or, you know, vice versa.

And while I get that not all young players are equal (Russell, Ingram, and Randle were lottery picks), that fact doesn’t change the other side of the equation either — that, no matter their pedigree, they all need to be developed and to be put in situations where they can gain experience if the team is going to be as good as fans want long term.


Darius Soriano

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to On Playing the Young Guys…

  1. A Horse With No Name February 15, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    A well-reasoned, balanced view.  Whatever young guys are finishing, I think we all agree that Lou Williams shouldn’t be in trying to get the win at the expense of player development and garnering counter-productive wins.  I really don’t fault Luke either.  Coaches want to win, and the team really suffered from injuries that derailed progress.  It’s understandable that Luke and his staff would like to  see some wins.  It’s incumbent on the FO then, to work with the coaching staff to get on the same page regarding organizational priorities.  Hopefully the dilemna of what to do with Lou is resolved at the trade deadline.

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  2. Russell and Randle CONSIDER themselves alpha dogs but in all true they are entitled BOYS who don’t put in consistent EFFORT. Luke is playing those who care and ALWAYS try. He is punishing their lack of effort and efficiency while trying to win games with the hot hands.
    I’ve grown tired of those two premadonnas (sp). It’s about effort and consistency while still improving and neither seems to get that. I would rather a limited skilled player like Nerlens Noel than Randle because of his effort. Though he’s repetitive when it comes to LNJ, at least we know he’s a gamer. Russell still hasn’t learned from his time under Byron that you have to earn your playing time. Nothing is given. It isn’t the NFL but the adage still applies Not For Long. This is why I bristle every time people mention trading Lou or Nick, why get rid of team friendly, hard working, efficient vets just to give this spoiled brat time. Earn it or sit son. Show me your desire Joe Cool.

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  3. Agreed.  What may be a factor right now is putting on display some of the tradable vets – LWill, NYoung, possibly TBlack. Even if that’s the case, Luke’s direction appears rather muddled at the moment.

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  4. I think the issue for some fans like myself has to do with Clarkson and being unclear what exactly he did in particular to deserve minutes over DAR. Clarkson was a +5, but I would argue that was mostly because he shared the 4th with Lou. By many aspects, he’s been the most disappointing Laker with his lack of improvement on defense and his development into an inefficient ballstopper, and his performance last night was right in line with how his season has gone.

    Whoever is running the Lakers this upcoming offseason has to take a hard look at Clarkson and decide how much of what they’re seeing now is what they’re going to get for the next 3 years.

    And on a side note, I don’t get what experience Ingram could’ve gained last night. He wasn’t involved in the offense for the last 3:47, and the Kings continually went to Boogie, so Ingram wasn’t really involved on the defensive end either. Again, it was just one of those nights where we didn’t learn anything about these players.

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  5. Busboys4me
    I’m not sure about Randle’s effort.  He definitely is willing to hustle for a rebound.  He definitely fits in Walton’s system better than Scott’s.  I just haven’t seen development of some key things like his right hand.
    As for Russell I think he is immature but, he is really young.  So there’s hope he just needs some fine aging.  He has become less turnover prone and the difference between him being in and out of the line-up is pretty big.
    Still at times I just want tot see more consistency.
    As for our vets, if they are the hot hand that night I’m not completely against playing them.  I’m actually somewhat concerned the Lakers have too much youth.  Yet at the same time guys who are over 30 aren’t likely to be assets by the time the franchise turns around.  In light of the still owed draft picks, acquiring some assets like that wouldn’t be terrible.  My ideal “vets” wold be in their upper 20’s with 1 or 2 picks of new blood per year.

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  6. Is it possible that DAR and JR are actually impeding their own development due to large lapses in intensity and pure hustle?? Hi motor JR is my favorite Laker. Detached Jr is my least favorite. He rarely sprints back on D, he closes out as if he’s 7’2 and paranoid of being blown bye.
    DAR has a lack of intensity from baseline to baseline. I believe the Lakers have done him a tremendous disservice by announcing him the franchise’s PG instead of bringing in a competent veteran to help develop him
    I also believe that both players are at times hindering the development of what the entire team is trying to accomplish on both ends of the floor.

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  7. Chutch I couldn’t agree more with you here. Julius seems to have the Lamar Odom tendency where his focus and intensity are up when things are going well and down when things aren’t going his way. This is ESPECIALLY noticeable on D. I’m a huge JR fan but often worry about his consistency. I can see why people compare his skill set and potential with Draymond Green’s, but we NEVER have to question Draymond’s intensity. 

    As for DAR, I’m not a huge fan and have tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t really see what Russel supporters see and I agree that touting him has the PG of the future was not the best thing in the world. However, I do see him trying to make the changes necessary for him to be a good PG in this league. I’ve also noticed a much more serious demeanor which I’m a fan of. 

    Both of these dudes need to understand that nothing is owed to them. I know they work hard, but sometimes they come across as entitled. And when I say that, I mean giving up on plays, complaining, and whining. 

    But I think we’re getting closer to adopting an identity that involves more running and a higher pace, something we couldn’t do previously with Deng and Mozgov starting. This change won’t just help JR and DAR, but all of our young guys.

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  8. I understand Luke’s point(s), except for Lou given free reign to blow up the offense and chuck freely. Sure he sometimes catches fire but I’d prefer to see sets being run and I’d rather see DAR be used as a focus such as PnR actions. He’s also a great spot up shooter but what’s the point when Lou, Nick, Clarkson don’t pass and Randle has tunnel vision?
    I love the subjective criticisms on DAR though about heart and hustle, lol.
    We have a 20 year old PG who is already league average in PER (the only guys above him are good vets) and his counting stats extrapolated per 36 minutes are elite. He’s only playing 24 minutes per game right now because Luke runs 10 deep. The ones criticizing him are persuaded by narrative bias and perception. What do us fans see in him? It’s obvious that he has special potential.
    He’s already focusing on learning every teammates strengths and where they want and like the ball. He’s the only one that can run the offense and be effective. Look at the Lakers stats when he’s in and out of the game. Keep in mind most of his minutes were with Deng and Mozgov.
    Stop grading him like a finished product and comparing him to current all-stars. Teams are already giving up on guys like Mudiay, Exum, and Dunn. You guys weren’t high on Curry and Irving until they were 24 years old.
    Relax. Use context.

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  9. Just to clarify, I’m not saying DAR doesn’t have his shortcomings. Every player does, especially at 20. Even LeBron and Kobe were flawed at that age. But that’s the point. There is no point in picking at him until he shows no growth or effort to improve as he becomes 21, 22, 23 years old.
    Clarkson and Nance are fair game because they are closer to what they will become. Didn’t realize they are both 24 and going on 25.

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  10. I was totally fine with Luke playing Lou to end the game given that he had carried the team through a pretty amazing comeback. Lineup decisions are so context specific that it would probably be unfair to hold Luke to some black and white rule that requires the young core to always play down the stretch. I trust Luke to make the call each game based on the specific context.

    But, that said, I do think that it is critical for Russell in particular to finish close games. At this point, Russell is positioned as the lead guard of the future. If all goes according to plan, he is going to be an extremely high usage (30%+) player and the focal point of the offense. He’s going to be the one calling plays, initiating the offense, directing his teammates, creating shots for himself and others, etc., etc. All of these responsibilities turn on decision making. And you get good at decision making through experience; through countless reps in every possible situation; through learning what works and what doesn’t; by learning your teammates strengths in every matchup and setting. The weight of each possession, and thus each decision, are magnified during crunch time. I can’t think of anything more important to Russell’s development then being in the center of this high leverage action and getting those decision making reps. And, unfortunately, it seems clear that he’s struggling to find himself as the leader of the offense. His approach to attacking on offense varies wildly from month to month, game to game, and even within the flow of a game. He seems to be overthinking and unsure of whether to attack or hold back, to look for his shot or pass, to attack the rim or find a teammate. I’m not a coach, of course, but it seems that the best way to find himself in this uncertainty is by actually playing, especially when the possessions matter.

    Going forward, I can’t think of a more important developmental priority for the team than giving Russell the ball in the final minutes of any close game and letting him experience every possible decision making situation. I understand that there are other young players to develop, but none of them are destined to be the driving force behind the offense for the next 10 years, and he is, and he needs every possible opportunity to master this critical role.

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  11. That’s how you showcase a player. Is as simple as that. The Lakers are shopping Lou hard and he will be out there until he gets shipped out. Then we will see DAR and Julius closing games.

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  12. I do agree that Russell and Julius should be more ahead in their development. Not concerned yet but when they don’t have Lou anymore to bail them out they will have to step up.

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  13. Both Russell & Randle are both fine players but they have been really inconsistent. It has a part that they both were injured & lack of playing time. The thing with the Lakers is who is there best player because Lou Williams can’t be your best player. They rely on him to much to bail them out of tough situations.

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  14. I will be more concerned if Russell continues to sit after the trade deadline.  It is clear that their current starting unit is their best one.  Even Young has been attempting to make passes on the court.

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  15. Luke stated a week ago that he thought DAR was both fatigued and dealing with some minor injuries. He went on to say that everyone is nicked up at this stage, and that DAR needs to learn to play through it like everyone else. This is likely one of the reasons DAR is being benched in crunch time (along with the stellar play of Lou who, as Fern mentioned, needs to be showcased for a trade).
    I’m not a big fan of DAR, but he is not this bad and not this lazy…….at least not on offense. He is moving like someone who is exhausted and doesn’t want to pull a hammy or reinjure a knee.
    I am guessing DAR will find his second wind after the much needed allstar break.

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