LOS ANGELES- Lakers head coach Luke Walton has received criticism at times this season for his handling of D’Angelo Russell’s minutes. Russell has sat down the stretch at times as Lou Williams plays, or come back too late in Williams’ stead to get into rhythm.
Russell’s up-and-down usage has led some to accuse Walton of caring more about wins than development, which is the opposite of his stated priorities upon being hired over the offseason. According to Walton, however, those priorities haven’t changed.
“I like tonight's win a lot because of the way we got the win. If Lou Williams went for 57 [points] and we ran nothing but high pick-and-rolls all night long, and we outscored them 120-119, that type of win doesn't really mean much to me.” Walton said following the Lakers’ 108-96 win over the Indiana Pacers
“But because we got a win by playing our tails off on defense, by tagging cutters, by getting out and pushing the ball in transition, [and] for the most part making them make challenged, contested shots, that means that we're playing the right way,” Walton continued. “When you win like that, it feels much better.”
Walton’s words may not make his harshest critics of his handling of Russell feel much better, but this window into his thought process on what he looks for from a victory was one of the more interesting things to come out of the Lakers’ slump-busting victory on Friday night.
Wins don’t necessarily help the Lakers much this season as they fall further from the playoff race, and while building the types of long-term habits Walton discussed may not help the Lakers as much as another lottery pick, they still are indicative of progress in what promises to be a long rebuilding effort.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. andBasketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.