Los Angeles — The Los Angeles Lakers are 3-2 since losing Rajon Rondo to a broken hand that required surgery almost two weeks ago, and head coach Luke Walton said before the Lakers’ 108-104 loss to the Orlando Magic that the area the team has missed Rondo most is how he lead their bench unit and made sure everyone was in the right spots at all times.
“With Rondo in there, a big part of what we did — and me and him communicated with that — was really orchestrating that group as far as getting certain guys shots and running certain plays each time down,” Walton said. “We don’t have that without him. But Brandon and Zo bring different strengths, and they’re starting to get a little more comfortable with that group as a whole.”
Rondo has still been leading vocally from the bench, where he could be seen taking players aside during nearly every timeout, talking them up and pointing out things he was seeing on the floor, but there is only so much he can do from the sidelines.
In his stead, Ball and Ingram are two of the quietest and most soft-spoken players on the Lakers, and so it makes sense they wouldn’t necessarily lead with the same veteran chutzpah as a 13-year veteran when both are just 21 years old.
“They’ll continue to learn and get better with it, but it’s something that comes with experience,” Walton said, although he wanted to note that this wasn’t just an age thing, either.
“What Rondo has, most point guards will never have. He’s just one of those types of players. He knows where everyone on the court should be. He knows when so-and-so hasn’t gotten a shot in a while. He knows when so-and-so is hot, and how to use them as a decoy or how to get him a shot. That’s one of his strongest skill sets that he’s had for a while now in this league,” Walton said.
Walton thinks that Ingram and Ball will “continue to get better at the longer they play in the league,” but he also says that the team also doesn’t need them to bring exactly what Rondo brings, either. This wasn’t a criticism of Ball and Ingram, more just an evaluation that they bring different skills to the floor than Rondo does.
“To me it’s more getting used to playing with that [bench] group. It’s a completely different style of game with that second unit than the first,” Walton said. “They were starting to build up their own identity a little bit, and this just changes that up, and it’s now just getting comfortable with a different type of point guard out there.”
On Sunday, Walton played Ball the entire first quarter to leave him in to shepherd the bench units that Rondo used to captain, and then had Ingram and James share the ball-handling load with the second unit to start the second quarter, to mixed results. The Lakers got off to one of their strongest quarters of the season on Sunday in the first, but then struggled in the second and let the Magic back into the game.
Ball is doing a nice job pushing the pace with the bench and making sure that unit continues to try and outrun teams, but the Lakers’ offense seemed to bog down a bit in the second quarter with James and Ingram’s more methodical styles of play. The Lakers simply don’t have the fear-inspiring shooters necessary to make a steady diet of half-court sets or pick and rolls work consistently. The team also likely misses Rondo’s communication defensively, where he would often call out opponents’ sets to get his teammates ready for what was going to be run.
With Rondo set to miss 2-3 more weeks, the Lakers will have to figure these issues out for a little while longer, lest they lose too much ground in the playoff race — or lose too many more games to mediocre opponents like the Magic. That said, they’re undefeated against teams not from Orlando since Rondo went down, though, so maybe the Lakers will be all right given that they have no more games against the Magic on the schedule this season.