The Los Angeles Lakers have suddenly become a deep, young team after another round of fantastic drafting. Rookies Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are all key contributors just a few games into the regular season, and the former two have given a huge boost to head coach Luke Walton’s bench unit.
Julius Randle coming to terms with sliding down to the reserves has also given the second-line an extra punch, while Jordan Clarkson has fully evolved into the combo scoring guard that he always fit the mold of. To be fair to JC, he’s made fantastic strides as a playmaker as well.
“We feel good with both the units right now,” Walton said after the Lakers’ win over the Detroit Pistons. “Every game it changes a little bit depending on who we're playing, as far as when we get to that second unit, and who we sub first, and second, and third into the starting group, but I think both units are playing pretty good basketball right now.”
Walton should feel good about his bench, which has become one of the NBA’s highest-scoring groups. They reserves are averaging 46.7 points per game to start the season, good for third in the league behind the Sacramento Kings (48.6 ppg) and Brooklyn Nets (48.1), according to HoopsStats.com. That eight Lakers players are averaging double-digit scoring is proof in the purple-and-gold pudding.
Coach Luke isn’t the only one who thinks the bench mob is giving the team a big boost. Lonzo Ball was highly complimentary of the reserves Tuesday night as well, saying the team has another “dynamic” when they hit the floor.
“It gives us another dynamic. They come in and it's pretty much instant offense, and they can switch everything. It just gives us another look, and like you said they've been doing great all year,” Ball told media following the win Tuesday.
Being able to weave different lineups and individual players into different units is key for any successful team. The Lakers are a young team whose veterans (Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) are new to the team as well, but they’re all starting to jell.
“Even though they've only been together for a short amount of time, understanding what we're trying to do, instead of just memorizing what the coverages are... because basketball is too fast, there's too many talented players at this level, so there's always adjustments to be made on the fly, there's always people you have to help a teammate if he gets beat.
“So they're doing a really good job of giving the effort, but then starting to kind of understand the vision of what we're trying to accomplish defensively,” Walton said of the group meshing together as a whole.
That kind of cohesion builds success. Sustaining momentum built from any of the lineups Walton trots out is key, and only possible if everyone on the team is invested in executing their role no matter if they’re a starter, or playing with a group of players they aren’t accustomed to getting minutes alongside of.
“We were locked in, we were locked and loaded, and every shot we took was in rhythm,” Brandon Ingram said after their best 48 minutes of basketball. “Whether it was a swing swing, whether it was penetration drive and kick, everything was in rhythm that we did tonight.”
It’s unlikely the current starting lineup is going to remain unchanged through the remainder of the season, but with the reserves performing so well together as a unit, there might be enough reason for Walton to keep things rolling for the time being. That’s a tricky slope to coach around, especially when someone like Randle is playing so well.
We’ll see how it plays out the rest of the year, but for now, the Lakers sound thrilled about having a bench that can both pick up where the starters left off or spark a comeback, as they have many times already this season.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com