The Los Angeles Lakers are a young team on the rise, but it’s easy to forget that Luke Walton is the youngest head coach in the NBA. Leading the Lakers is no small task, but Walton looks like a natural fit in the role.
Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson spoke with Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet about a wide range of Lakers topics, including his evaluation of how Walton has done as the franchise blazers a trail to a new era.
“Luke's done a good job. First, just his love affair with the players. They have a really good relationship, that's where he's really doing a fabulous job of understanding young players,” Johnson said.
Anyone watching can see the internal improvements happening, both from individual players and as a team. There’s no stat more striking than the Lakers’ improved defensive rating, where they rank eighth in the NBA. The purple and gold are holding teams to 100 points per 100 possessions. Last season they gave up 110.6 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark in the league.
The other area the Lakers have made a concerted effort in is increasing the tempo they play at, where they lead the NBA. LA averages 105.06 possessions per game, up from 100.8 last season.
“We had two things that we wanted to do better. Our defense had to be better, and we're better defensively. And then the other thing, the pace of the game.
“It's hard as a young coach because he's learning just like our young players are learning, but we're happy about the job he's been doing,” Magic said.
On the other side of the coin, anyone watching also knows that there have been instances where Walton’s decision making has fallen short. Johnson is aware of that as well, pointing directly to a disappointing loss to the LA Clippers as a moment where Luke made the wrong moves.
“We feel like the Clipper game, the two guys that were rolling he forgot to put them back in — Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma — so we end up losing that game. And also, we didn't double team Lou Williams the last four-or-five minutes. Those are two mistakes that he made, OK, I get it. There's a lot going on, and he's learning,” Magic said.
Fans nod furiously in agreement.
Yes, Johnson was quick to point out direct criticisms of Walton’s work, but that’s a good thing. Magic has to lead the front office, the coaching staff, the players and everyone surrounding him on the basketball operations side. Being critical of everyone’s performance, and communicating areas of opportunity, will be key in the franchise continuing to take steps forward.
“My job is to hold everyone accountable and make them better,” Johnson said. “Not only am I trying to make the players better and I give them notes, I'm going to do the same with Luke and his coaching staff.”
*All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet