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Luke Walton says he won’t always play young players down the stretch

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This sounds familiar, but don’t freak out just yet.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The assumption from the day Luke Walton was hired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers was that he would take the chains off of their young players and get them the minutes they needed to grow. During the Lakers’ 109-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night Walton rode with his young players down the stretch, trusting D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram alongside veterans like Lou Williams and Nick Young in the final five minutes of the game.

But just because Walton did it against the Mavericks doesn't mean he’s always going to stick to his young guns as the clock is ticking away.

“If one of the young guys, or a few of the young guys are playing pretty bad that night, then in my opinion you don’t let them close the game because they haven’t earned that right if everyone else is battling and fighting,” Walton told assembled media following the loss. “If one of the older players, like Lou [Williams] or Luol [Deng], or like Nick [Young] is playing great, then you let them stay. There is a judgement to be made there, it’s not an every time type of thing.”

Walton has rolled with vets before this season. In the Lakers’ upset win over the Golden State Warriors, he went with the red hot Lou Williams down the stretch in order to give the team a better shot at closing out the game.

And ignoring Jose Calderon’s 1 game skewing the way the chart looks, the Lakers’ fourth quarter minutes distribution has skewed youth heavy (per NBA.com):

Russell being at the bottom of that chart looks a little strange, but he usually closes the third quarter and returns midway through the fourth, a pattern which explains that quirk somewhat. Walton was probably a little slow going back to him against the Mavericks considering Russell lit Dallas up with 12 points on six shots in the third quarter, but no coach is going to make the exact right decision every time.

Walton also made it clear that he thinks his veterans will get it if he goes with the youth movement down the stretch.

“I think they understand that while we’re trying to win right now and we’re trying to become a better team, that we’re also trying to develop young players,” Walton said. “I haven’t sat down and talked about that with them yet, but I’m pretty sure with the professionals that they are that they understand that.”

With multiple players on the team speaking about how they’d love to run through a brick wall for Walton, generating the buy in for his vets to understand being sat doesn’t seem to be a problem. What will be worth watching, however, is how often Walton will do so.

All stats per NBA.com, and all quotes transcribed via Lakers.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at@hmfaigen. He discusses Walton’s minutes distribution on the latest episode of the show below: