Welp. Lineup-gate continues.
Luke Walton raised eyebrows throughout the Los Angeles Lakers fan base Monday night when he started David Nwaba instead of D’Angelo Russell. Hours after of the game against the Houston Rockets, he continued the trend, this time starting Nick Young per Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News.
The logic behind this is pretty questionable.
Now, the most sensical explanation is that Walton wants to see Jordan Clarkson continue as the starting point guard, but with the improved spacing that comes with playing Young in Nwaba’s place.
This is fine, but when the team has publicly stated that they want to get as good a look as they can at their younger players, this runs contrary to that priority.
Another explanation is that Walton is sending a message to Russell that he needs to earn his starting job back after a couple lackluster performances. This is where this gets interesting.
If that’s the case, Walton would be the second coach in as many years to take issue with Russell’s inconsistent energy levels. Stuff like this makes people wonder what might actually be going on behind the scenes.
Coaches tend to be harder on point guards than with other players because of the responsibility that comes with the position, but this a pretty stark contrast to how Walton deals with other players, especially the younger ones.
The other issue with this decision is it’s yet another game in which Clarkson and Russell won’t be in the backcourt to start a game together. They haven’t done that at all this season.
Before the year, the Lakers were telling anyone who would listen that those two are the backcourt of the future. Between then and now, the coaching staff must have seen something that scared them crap-less to avoid that combination as obviously as they have.
Here’s the thing, though: At this point, when the organization is already getting looks at different lineups, why not take a closer look at such an obviously important combination? If it works, great. If not, oh well. The tank rolls on.
Walton’s tenure thus far has been pretty solid, but this is a pretty glaring misstep. It could get fixed in the remaining 15 games, but time is kind of running out to get the kind of sample size necessary to feel comfortable about how Russell and Clarkson work together.
We’ll just have to wait and see, but for now, this forces everyone to question what might be going on privately and/or in practices.