The Los Angeles Lakers got their man on Friday night when they hired Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton to be the 26th coach in franchise history. It's become cliche to mention at this point, but the Lakers grabbing their top option in anything after several years of memorable misses is still worth noting.
The next big question is: what did they get? What do we really know about Luke Walton the head coach? The answer is not much, but early indications are promising.
Everyone knows about Walton's success his stint as interim coach with the Warriors, but the fact that he spent time as a player development coach for the Lakers' D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, may end up being more critical for a young Lakers roster.
Walton reportedly believes the Lakers' young players can be All-Stars, and now he'll have a hand in getting them there. Judging by an interview he did with BBall Breakdown earlier this season, he will focus heavily on the basic aspects of the game.
"As advanced as our league is and as good as the players are, everything still comes down to the fundamentals of the game, and the teams that execute that the best, and the players who execute that the best," said Walton. "You come out in practice and you do it every single day, and even though you mentally don't want to be doing it, you still train your body to go through those actions. Then when you're in the game and you're not thinking about that stuff, I think you naturally do it."
A young Lakers team that ranked last in the league in defensive efficiency and second to last in offensive efficiency was certainly lacking in the fundamentals department. But where the Lakers last head coach, Byron Scott, so often came off as a disciplinarian who wanted things done his way without question, Walton sounds more interested in developing a culture of collaboration.
"We have a great group of guys [with the Warriors]. They've been open to everything we've suggested since we've been here, and that relationship goes both ways," Walton said when talking about how the Golden State coaching staff worked with the team. "They have suggestions for us on what they think could work and we try that as well, and it has been a nice recipe for success here."
That's all well and good, but even if it sounds like Walton will be able to build a more positive locker room, it's still unknown exactly how he'll utilize the Lakers' talent on the floor. Walton told Bill Oram of the O.C. Register and other assembled reporters that he won't use the triangle with the Lakers and will draw more inspiration from how the Warriors have built an offense around spacing and ball movement, but he outlined to BBall Breakdown how some of those triangle principles influenced the offense he helped design in Golden State.
"We didn't want to come in, this team had won fifty-some games before we got here, we didn't want to completely change everything they did," said Walton. "So we didn't put in the triangle offense as Steve and I ran it under Phil and Tex, but the concepts of all five guys always being a threat, the non-stop movement, if one thing is denied, then just counteract back the other way, the spacing, all those basic ideas of the triangle are in our coaching staffs' beliefs and we use those in the offense that we run."
Luke phrasing it as the offense that "we" run was probably not intended to have any extra meaning, but it's also fitting. Walton garnered tons of praise during his time as interim head coach for not just keeping the engine Kerr had running so smoothly last year running, but for installing a hyperdrive that might have been what left Warriors owner Joe Lacob confident enough to say that his organization was "light years ahead" of the rest of the NBA.
Walton and the Warriors raced out to a 39-4 start this season, but when looking at the team's advanced statistics with Walton at the helm versus how they played upon Kerr's return, the results are nearly identical. The team's shot distributions was also essentially the same:
Walton not messing with a good thing is undoubtedly a skill. Golden State not only not missing a beat with Walton in Kerr's place, but kicking things up a notch is a feather in his cap, and an encouraging sign for his Lakers tenure.
However, as Kerr aptly noted at the first Warriors practice following the announcement of Walton's hiring "it's too bad you don't have Steph, and Klay, and Draymond anymore. You're on your own pal." So without the Warriors' juggernaut roster, what will Walton attempt to run? Generalities about ball movement and spacing are nice, but what types of sets will he use? If his interview with BBall Breakdown and preferences as a player are any indication, his offense will involve "pinch post" sets.
"I love the pinch-post," said Walton. "There's so many options out of there, there's so many ways to take advantage of the defense depending on how they're guarding. You know how they're guarding certain players coming off of you, and you can change your footwork to gain an advantage, so without a doubt the pinch-post was my favorite part [of the triangle]."
For those that don't know what the "pinch post" involves, BBall Breakdown has an excellent explanation of it here:
Watch that set, and then picture Julius Randle in the pinch post after a summer of working on his decision making, something one could expect based off of Walton's own history as a playmaker and the testament of his former players.
"He was huge on teaching bigs how to be versatile threats," says Andre Ingram, who played for the D-Fenders during Walton's time there and calls Walton. "Whether they were shooting, making plays with the ball, or hitting guys for scores."
That sounds like exactly what Randle would have to do in the pinch post. Now picture D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson either running off of a more versatile Randle or spacing the floor. If the Lakers add a wing shooter, that has the potential to be a mainstay of their offense and a very real threat for them as early as next season.
Sprinkle in some more pick-and-rolls and excise a ton of the Lakers' isolations from last season, and all of a sudden that looks like a respectable offense just one season after ranking as the league's second worst.
"I'm excited about the players and the pieces that are there," Walton told reporters following Golden State's practice on Saturday. "There's obviously work to do, but they got a nice start."
Walton is now in charge of that work, and while how he will fare is still a huge question mark, his comments on coaching and actions with the Warriors and D-Fenders point towards a successful tenure.
Special thanks to BBall Breakdown. All quotes not cited obtained firsthand. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.