The Los Angeles Lakers are dealing with a host of injuries, mostly in their backcourt, but nobody was prepared for the starting lineup that head coach Luke Walton put together. Brandon Ingram, Metta World Peace, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov would never play together in our wildest of dreams, but that was the call Monday night against the Utah Jazz.
That group played a total of eight minutes together and it was agonizing to watch. They couldn’t score, averaging just 49.1 points per 100 possessions while Walton’s experiment got underway. Simpler, they made just two of their 16 total attempts. Their defense was just as bad, allowing the Jazz to score 172.9 points per 100 possessions.
What gives? Why did Luke even try this crazy lineup? Let’s allow him a chance to explain himself, which is exactly what he did in his postgame press conference.
"We tried to switch some things up knowing how good of an execution team they are and with the injuries we had,” Walton said when asked about the starting lineup.
“We tried a lineup where we could just switch everything and make them play an isolation style of basketball, which we thought worked alright early on. Guys that we would have preferred take shots took them, and they just happened to all hit them."
The real damage came in the third quarter though, with the Jazz rattling off a huge run while the Lakers floundered even worse than the opening minutes. How did it go from horrible to horribler?
“We tried to change it up to start the second half and back to a more traditional, ICE on the side and not switching the five man and we didn't tag the cutter,” Walton said. ”Gobert got a dunk, and so we ended up going back to our one-to-five switching
“They're a big group and we were talking about who to go with, we were hoping that by switching one through five with like-sized guys, like I said, we can get them out of their rhythm.”
It’s refreshing to hear Walton’s very clear and basketball-focused explanation. There was a method to what he was hoping to accomplish, but he also acknowledged it was very out of the box.
“I like unconventional. I wouldn't go to it if we were at full strength, I wouldn't have tried it, but with all the injuries we had we just tried something to disrupt what they do and still hopefully be able to get done what we're trying to get done,” Walton said.
As for the decision to throw his rookie to the wolves of being a fully fledged point guard, he had an explanation for that too.
“[Brandon Ingram's] gotta learn and I think he's young, so when we call a play he's trying to do the right thing and run that play, but if teams are going to pick him up 40 feet from the basket we don't want him running the play anymore,” Walton said of Ingram’s surprising start at point guard. ”He's good enough that he can go by, I mean nobody should be able to slide their feet with Brandon.
“It's great for him. It's absolutely great for him to be able to call plays and bring the ball up and play from that position, whether he struggles or has a good game it's still great learning opportunities and experience for him.”
The injuries aren’t magically going away, as Lakers fans are all too familiar with after the last few seasons, so what comes next?
“We'll go back to the drawing board and see what we want to do differently, but we've got another heckuva challenge against Houston.”
The cleanest way to distribute the starting lineup is to bump one of either Jordan Clarkson or Lou Williams into the starting lineup, and it sounds like that might be the next move he makes. The coveted Lakers bench may be in for a shakeup for a few games.
“We're getting pretty close to that, which obviously that's been the most consistent, successful group we've had all season” Walton said of moving Clarkson or Williams into the starting lineup. “We would hate to break it up but with the amount of people going down it might just be time to roll in that direction and see how we do.”
Alright, Luke. Thank you for clearing that up.
*Quotes transcribed via Lakers.com