The city of Los Angeles has historically attracted the best coaches in all of sports. Whether it’s homegrown talent like Pat Riley and Tommy Lasorda, or just hiring all-time greats to lead their franchise back to greatness like Phil Jackson, Los Angeles has been spoiled when it comes to coaching talent.
Currently, the City of Angels has given opportunities to first-timers Dave Roberts, Sean McVay and Luke Walton. Roberts took the Los Angeles Dodgers manager job in 2015, and has led his team to two NLCS appearances and the Dodgers’ first appearance in the World Series since 1988. McVay took over a Rams team that went 4-12 in 2016, and has turned them into an 8-3 Super Bowl contender in 2017.
Walton has not seen the same type of success during his time in Los Angeles, but has shown that he has what it takes to coach in the NBA. The first chance he had to truly coach an NBA team was with the Golden State Warriors, where he compiled a 39-4 record during Steve Kerr’s absence. That also included an NBA-record 24-game winning streak.
While his 39 victories in 43 games probably won’t be matched by his Los Angeles Lakers this season, the Lakers’ head coach still has plenty to be proud of when it comes to this team. After taking the reigns from Byron Scott last season, Walton has preached defense, ball movement and pace of play. This season the Lakers are holding teams to 102 points per 100 possession, which is the eighth best defensive rating this season, and the best rating for the Lakers since the 2011-12 season.
On the tempo side of things, the Lakers average 105.49 possessions a game, which is the highest pace the Lakers have played since the stat was tracked in the 1996-97 season and ranks them second in the league. The Lakers assist totals have also gone up from 18 assists per game in 2015-16, to 20.9 assists per game last season, to currently averaging 23.1 assists.
The most significant impact that Walton has made on this team is the building of a new culture, relationships and player development. Since Walton first walked into the Lakers’ training facility as the head coach, music has been blaring on the speakers, and players have felt empowered to be themselves on the basketball court. Walton has told his team that he wants them be accountable, and has tried to build an environment that resembles a brotherhood.
When it comes to player development, Julius Randle has transformed into a player that makes his impact known not only on offense, but defense as well. Ingram has turned into a player that only averaged 9.4 points a game, to a player that was going toe to toe with Kevin Durant just a few nights ago.
The franchise thinks they have the coach that will bring them back to the promised land, especially while looking at the success of other young coaches like Brad Stevens, who took over as head coach for the Boston Celtics in 2013. Stevens only won 25 games in his first season in Boston, but his teams have increased their win totals every year since. Stevens made the playoffs in his second year, reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and this season is looking to be the first team to stop LeBron reaching the NBA Finals in seven years.
Jeanie Buss, the Lakers majority owner, believes they have their man in Walton. Buss talked about her confidence in Luke Walton during an interview with Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.
“If you can build a foundation of players who know the system you want to play, the style you want to play, then you really have [something]," Buss said. "The Spurs have done it the best where they have a core group of players and they just kind of switch pieces as they need to. … I believe that if we build with Luke in mind that he's somebody that can be around a long time."
Hopefully, Buss is right, and the Lakers have hired a coach that can last decades with one team. In the meantime, Coach Walton appears to be leading the purple and gold in the right direction.
*All stats via NBA.com/stats