One of the ongoing themes of Luke Walton’s hire has been how he wants to rebuild the Lakers’ culture. Coming from the Warriors, Walton has expressed a desire to import the competitive drive and having the proper edge and approach to the work which needs to be done. Yes, he wants his players to have fun, but he wants to ensure he is instilling the proper values in his players.
Building a culture is one of the most important things Walton is tasked with. While ultimate leadership of the franchise starts with ownership, the coach is more than just a bystander in this process. The coach is the one who has the players’ ears, the one who holds them accountable, the one who establishes the daily environment of work.
Walton knows this better than anyone as he came from a team where one of the things the head coach did was tweak the previous culture (and schemes) from those of his predecessor to better galvanize his players and get the most out of them. Walton will need to do the same with these young Lakers. And it will likely need to be more than just a tweak. This leadership will be instrumental in any success he and his team have.
But with a team so young as the one he inherits, Walton will need to be more than a leader, he will need to be a teacher as well. I have said this before, but young players make mistakes. The expectation is that they will learn from them, that over time they will catalog those miscues and put themselves in position to not make them again.
But to think this is only on the players would be foolish. The coaches must teach them the proper technique. They must show them where to be on the floor, how and what to read in any given situation. They must drill them over and over and make sure that they grasp the concepts in a way which translates to game play. They need to do this in practice, in the film room, and on the bench during games.
Too often last season the Lakers seemed to make the same mistakes over and over again. Part of this is surely the players’ faults. They either did not grasp what the coaches were teaching them or were unable to execute it when on the floor. However, I also question what was being taught to the players and, maybe more importantly, how it was being taught. When the pupils keep making the same errors, the blame cannot be solely their own. Fair or not, Byron Scott — with his “drill sergeant” stylings — is viewed as someone who just didn’t get through to this younger generation.
Which brings me back to Walton (and the staff he’s assembled). He must not only be presenting and laying out the concepts, but he must find a way to articulate them in ways which get through to the players and allow them absorb and execute them. These things go hand in hand and unless he has both ends covered, he’s not likely to be able to get the most out of his players, regardless of their respective talent levels.
Walton will surely benefit from the natural growth his young players achieve through reps and experience. This was already evident in summer league where both D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance looked far improved from where they were a year prior. Still, though, Walton will benefit most from his own ability to teach his young core the tactics and fundamentals they need in order to be effective on the floor.
This will go beyond leadership and into the nuts and bolts of how to execute everything from the basics to the more nuanced aspects of the game. If Walton can do this successfully in practices and in the film room, the results on the floor will follow.