The Los Angeles Lakers are coming down the home stretch of what will likely be their worst season in franchise history. The team currently has the second-worst record in the league at 14-55, and as the team has proven all season, they are unlikely to get wins no matter who plays down the stretch.
For more than a handful of games this year, that reality has not stopped Lakers head coach Byron Scott from benching most of his younger players and chasing wins with veterans, most recently when he closed the Lakers most recent loss with a lineup of Marcelo Huertas, Lou Williams, Brandon Bass, Ryan Kelly, and one rookie in Larry Nance, Jr. The Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns anyway while the rest of their young core of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson (although he made an eight-second cameo), and D'Angelo Russell looked on.
After the Lakers' practice on Saturday, Scott told the media that wasn't going to happen anymore:
Byron Scott says he is done benching young players for the fourth quarter. Going forward, they will play in fourth quarter "no matter what."— Bill Oram (@billoram) March 20, 2016
In a change of pace from his typical statements this season, Scott also blamed his veterans for the team's struggles to start games instead of chalking it up to youth and inexperience:
Byron stressed he doesn't just blame the slow starts on the young guys. It's on the vets too— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 20, 2016
Given that the team has had very little to gain other than experience for their young players going forward for most of the season, this public change is a little later than what would have been ideal. But as the saying goes, "better late than never," and so this adjustment is still a positive one, but it's also debatable how much of an adjustment it actually is.
Randle has actually played in more fourth quarters than anyone else on the team (57) and averaged 7.5 minutes per fourth quarter appearance. Russell right there with him, making 56 appearances for an average of 8.3 minutes, while Clarkson has played in 50 fourth quarters for an average of 7 minutes.
While that doesn't account for who finished out the game and is thus an imperfect measure of judging, this outcry over their benchings appears at least partially attributable to confirmation bias and frustration when the team's young core doesn't get a chance to grow in the clutch. NBA.com's "clutch" stats paint a slightly different picture, reinforcing the narrative that Scott has thus far been likely to ride Lou Williams over Russell in a tight game, but that Randle and Clarkson still get to finish:
Russell has played in 17 "clutch" situations this season, 6th on the team. Randle/Clarkson are first/second pic.twitter.com/x6zfb4gW4c— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) March 20, 2016
Regardless, the Lakers still have 13 games left to play, and after Scott's comments today, it sounds like that also means Russell, Randle, Clarkson (and maybe Nance, Jr. too if the team gets funky with lineups) have 13 games left to close.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.