LOS ANGELES- If there has been one criticism of Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton this season, it’s been how he’s handled his playing rotations, especially in fourth quarters. Check Twitter during any close fourth quarter of a Lakers game, and you’ll inevitably see complaints about Walton playing someone too many or too few minutes.
Walton’s actions have shown he likes to play a deep bench, often going with a 10-man rotation, one which usually leaves D’Angelo Russell resting to start the fourth quarter. Several times that’s resulted in Russell returning either very late in the fourth quarter or not at all.
In the Lakers’ loss to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, Walton didn’t put Russell back in until there was 2:46 remaining in the game, and he said after the game that he would have stuck with Jordan Clarkson had he not sprained his ankle. Walton outlined why that is following the loss.
“It might be hard for them, but I would hope that would motivate them with the idea that, look, none of this is guaranteed,” Walton said. “Whoever is bringing it, whoever is playing hard and playing the way that we want to play is going to be in at the end of a game.”
Walton said he felt as though the group he had in led by Clarkson and Lou Williams “had a nice little rhythm going” and that his rotations were “mainly a feel thing.” Because of the aforementioned substitution logistics, that has sometimes meant leaving various Lakers starters on the bench because a reserve lineup had it going, with one exception.
“Sometimes we’ll go back to other people to give them opportunities, whether it’s that a group doesn’t look great together and, say, Julius is having a bad game, we’ll go back to Julius,” Walton said. “We need him to experience what it’s like in the final three minutes and be able to get that experience. But for the most part if a group is rolling we’re going to let them grow.”
The counterargument would be that sometimes less than three minutes isn’t enough for a player to get their rhythm going again in a tight game if they’ve been on the bench for a while, but maybe this substitution practice will fulfill Walton’s goal of motivating the team to be better. Maybe it won’t, but either way, it seems to be a philosophy he’s sticking with for now.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.