While most informed analysis has moved beyond “count the rings” as a measurement of what constitutes success, saying we, as observers/fans/analysts, are beyond the line of thinking where results outweigh process would be incorrect. This, in many ways, is completely understandable. If the ultimate goal is to win, those who win should be lauded — no matter how they got there.
Picking apart the process of how a team wins can be a worthwhile endeavor. But, let’s face it, if you’re winning at the highest level the odds are that success is predicated on a well supported process. Talent can overcome bad process in limited samples, but over the long haul talent which is misguided will not succeed. Just as talent reinforced by proper guidance will, more times than not, see results approaching/at their most optimal.
That may not be enough to win at the highest level, but winning is hard. It takes some luck, especially when you consider lots of teams are really talented. Even with all of them achieving their maximum results, some are still going to fall short. There is only one team standing at the end.
This brings me to this year’s Lakers. This group, as a whole, is not super talented. They are also not achieving results anyone will recall fondly at any point in the future. They are a footnote in any discussion about success in today’s NBA because they have barely experienced any.
But success is relative. This team may not be competing for a championship (or even a playoff berth), but they are trying to find their way towards that type of success. And it starts with talent. These Lakers — these young Lakers — have some of that. More than some, I would argue.
In D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, you have highly touted lottery picks. In Larry Nance Jr. you have a late bloomer with NBA bloodlines. And in Jordan Clarkson, you have a bundle of raw ability which did not manifest itself fully in college, but is starting to show now through continued refinement and experience.
That last point, on the timing of their talent emerging, has become a point of contention of late. Everyone is happy the young players — especially Russell — are showing real strides, but with that comes the underlying wave of criticism Byron Scott has faced all season about whether his tactics and approach have stunted or delayed the emergence of what we are seeing now.
There is an argument to be made, Scott — with his hard-riding, media-“man-upping”, and antiquated offense — could have been getting these types of results from this young group earlier. That if his communication style and schematic approaches were different from the outset, this group would be farther ahead than they are now and showing an even more advanced grasp of what it takes to succeed in this league.
The truth is we have no way of knowing if another way would have worked, though I am of the mind it would have. The reason I say that is, because, for the most part, talent prevails. Especially when accompanied with hard work. The Lakers young players have both which aids in their progression. This is why, regardless of how any of us view Scott’s tactics in this short term, the Lakers’ core is likely to be fine over the long haul.
This leaves perceptions of Scott in a gray area. How any of us view his impact on the players to this point is likely to say more about how we view him through our own critical lens than anything else. As noted above, I think Scott could have handled things differently and, in the process, done himself more favors to positively affect his perception. This doesn’t mean, however, his approach didn’t have some positive influence. Measuring that, though, is difficult. Just as it would be if discussing what type of negative, if any, influence it may have. This won’t stop us from having opinions, but it’s always a good thing to remember.
It is also good to remember that player development is not always linear. Players start fast and regress or slow and improve; they show strides within a game or a stretch of games then fall back on poor habits; they have ups and downs, looking for a footing they can establish to springboard into the players they want to become. This is especially true for young players.
This brings me back to the talent these players possess and the process in which they are being exposed to. Since the All-Star break, these kids are playing much better. In that period, Scott has changed the offense, been less acerbic in his public comments about the young players, and, in general, put the young players’ development on the front burner.
Yes, I wish this would have happened sooner. And, no, I do not think just because it is happening now, and the results have improved, that this validates the previous approach. I also do not know if Scott’s job is in danger or, if it is, to what extent and whether improved recent play helps him. What I do know is that in the hopes of cultivating talent and battle of process vs. results the Lakers are on better footing now then they were before. That deserves acknowledgement, even if it only leads to more questions or critique.