Almost 10 games into the LeBron James era, the Los Angeles Lakers are the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference because they’re struggling to close out games.
While most of their problems could be solved by just feeding James the ball in crunch time, head coach Luke Walton would rather his young players use that time to develop winning habits.
Following the Lakers’ close win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, Walton told Bill Oram of The Athletic that player development is still a priority to him, even with a superstar player like James at his disposal.
“Part of what we’re trying to do here is, we know LeBron can win games,” coach Luke Walton said. “And it’s important for us to win games, but we also know where we’re trying to get to. We need other people that are going to step up and make plays.”
So far, his process has garnered mix results, as the Lakers have a 3-5 record, but Walton insists that the growing pains are part of the process.
“We have to know where we’re headed and what our game plan is and how we’re going to get there,” Walton said. “And that is learning to play together, becoming a team and winning. But also continuing to grow some of the young talent. We play a lot of young players. Not a lot of teams play as many of these young guys as we do, so we got to keep getting them better.”
As frustrating as the Lakers’ record might be now, Walton is looking ahead to the future.
With the talent on the current roster, the Lakers aren’t expected to compete for a championship this season, but they can blossom into a sleeper contender if the young players make meaningful leaps. In order for that to be possible, they need to get as many reps as possible in the clutch, and Walton is making sure they do.
Through eight games, James is playing with the lowest usage percentage (28.5 USG%) since his rookie year. Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are being utilized at the highest rate of their careers.
There will be nights it works in their favor, and there will be nights their lack of experience costs the Lakers the game, but it’s all part of a bigger plan, according to Walton. The hope now is that fans, players and front office buy into that plan.
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