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.
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.