LOS ANGELES- When Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell spent multiple timeouts during the fourth quarter of the team’s 97-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings talking to head athletic trainer Marco Nunez, it appeared as though his health might potentially be an issue once again.
But while Russell had come up somewhat gimpy after a collision during the third quarter, he and Lakers head coach Luke Walton both said he wasn’t injured.
That wasn’t the reason Russell didn’t play in the final period. When asked, Russell said he hadn’t spoken to his coach about what he can do to earn those minutes, either.
“[Walton] pretty much goes with who's playing well at the time, and I think that's the best way he can go about it,” Russell said.
Nine members of the Lakers saw fourth quarter minutes in the team’s loss to the Kings. None of them were Russell, a trend taken to it’s natural extreme.
Russell actually ranks 10th on the Lakers in fourth quarter minutes this year (six per game, and he actually ranks ninth if one excludes Marcelo Huertas, who has only appeared in 20 fourth quarters total).
While Russell may say that Walton is going about things the right way, his lack of playing time in the fourth is an issue for a team that’s rebuilding and could probably gain more long-term value from their young players gaining experience in the clutch than from watching Lou Williams attempt to chuck his way to a hollow victory, even if Russell wasn’t having his best game (eight points on nine shots and five turnovers).
Walton agrees, to a point.
“With the team that we have, it's guys that obviously we’re going to try to get minutes for experience for these young guys,” Walton said. “But we were down 16 and that group, they kind of fought back and got us a chance to win the game. So at that moment it wasn't that I thought this group or that group had a better chance, but it was rewarding the players that were playing together and that were bringing that energy and attacking on defense and making plays.
“Luol [Deng] was doing a good job for us in that group too, but I wanted Brandon [Ingram] to get those final three minutes of a close game,” Walton said. “With Brandon we put him in there for experience purposes."
Ingram (1575) has led the Lakers in total minutes this season, which isn’t an accident. Walton said he’s looking for opportunities like the Lakers’ close contest against the Kings, as well as blowouts, to give Ingram experience with all kinds of different situations he hasn’t encountered in the NBA yet.
“This is Brandon's first year at it,” Walton said. “Seeing how much more physical the game is is something that we need to get him now, so as he trains in this off-season he kind of knows what to expect going forward in his career."
Walton says Russell is in a different situation.
"D'Angelo knows what it's like, he's played all last year and this year, and he's been in clutch games, and he's been in blowouts, so he has that experience. Obviously we want more experience, but we're also trying to get experience for [Jordan Clarkson],” Walton said.
"You can make the case of putting him in for Lou, but Lou was obviously having the game that he was having,” Walton continued, referencing Williams’ game-high 19-points in the fourth quarter. “We weren't going to take him out, so all those things are balanced when it comes to deciding that."
On Tuesday Walton’s balancing act once again resulted in Russell high-fiving his teammates and clapping on the bench during the fourth quarter. How much longer that trend will continue remains unknown.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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.