When the Los Angeles Lakers hired Luke Walton as their new head coach following their dismissal of Byron Scott, many wondered how the relatively inexperienced head coach would have the team play. As Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr pointed out upon Walton's hiring, he may plan to bring his former team's style of play with him, but Walton will have to leave Drayond Green, Stephen Curry, and the rest of the players that make it so effective behind when he leaves for Los Angeles.
Walton will still likely utilize some of the small ball tactics that are such a large part of what makes the Warriors so dangerous, but how often and for how long remains an open question. In a feature story on Draymond Green in Paul Flannery's always excellent "Sunday Shootaround," Walton shared some of his thoughts on the style of play and how it can be just as dangerous for the team using it as the opponent if not deployed cautiously
"It's really physically draining to guard bigger people," assistant coach Luke Walton said. "If it's a true center we don't want to do it for too long because Draymond's already playing 40 minutes as it is. If we have him wrestling with someone bigger than he is for a lot of the time we're wearing him down too much. We know how potent our small lineup is, but we try to use it in spurts to take advantage of them."
The Warriors' "death lineup" featuring Green at center may light teams on fire offensively, but Walton is right to note that it is able to outscore their opponents so effectively because of Green's ability to defend centers effectively. Green is one of the best in the league at this tactic, but to grapple down low with a larger player all game would be taxing.
The Lakers (and 28 other teams) don't have a player like Green on their roster. Julius Randle may be hoping Walton can help him develop along Draymond's path, but he is not close to that level defensively yet. Could the Lakers downsize in limited minutes anyway?
If they do, it will likely be with Larry Nance, Jr. playing the role of undersized center alongside Randle, but the two will both have to improve defensively in order to be used more together. Randle and Nance, Jr. allowed opponents to shoot 56.3 and 57.4 percent at the rim last season, respectively, figures that will have to tick downwards in order to not hemorrhage as many points as they can hope to score. Just for comparison, opposing teams shot just 46.6 percent at the rim against Green. The Lakers young power forwards have a long way to go.
Even with these issues, lineups featuring Randle and Nance, Jr. playing alongside each other outscored opponents by 4.3 points per 100 possessions last season, according to NBA.com. That pairing played an extremely small sample size of 125 minutes last season, but Nance, Jr.'s ability to space the floor a bit from mid-range could make it playable in the types of small stints Walton describes. Nance, Jr. shot 40.3 percent from 16-24 feet last season, which is competent enough that defenses will have to stay near him and stretch themselves out, even if it won't have quite the same effect as Green's capable three-point shooting unless Walton has Nance, Jr. extend his range a bit.
All of this is fun to speculate on for now, but we won't have any real answers for how the pairing looks under their new coach until Las Vegas Summer League in July at the earliest. Still, it's interesting to hear Walton's philosophy on going small while we wait.
Alls stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.