The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 114-110, on Wednesday night, a victory that would seem to guarantee head coach Luke Walton a brief respite from the torrential downpour of criticism he’s faced for his coaching in recent weeks.
But this is the Lakers, and they’re still below .500, with a complicated dynamic of their win-now team being filled with young players that fans have been told are future stars even while they’re still developing, which means that Walton can’t win with his decisions.
Even when the Lakers win.
After (and during) the victory, Walton was being savaged on Twitter for a variety of reasons, but mainly for choosing to play veteran point guard Rajon Rondo (who finished with 2 points on 1-7 shooting, 10 assists and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes on the evening) over Lonzo Ball, who scored 3 points on 1-6 shooting with 6 assists and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes.
When Walton was asked if he thought about “going back to Lonzo for defensive reasons with Derrick Rose being as hot as he was” by our own Pete “Laker Film Room” Zayas, Walton said he did consider reinserting Ball, but that there were factors outside of just how Ball and Rondo were playing individually that kept him from doing so.
“(I was considering) going back to Lonzo, (or) do we go back to Josh Hart? If we go back to Josh, do we put him in for Rondo? Put him in for Tyson (and) switch everything?” Walton said. “All those thoughts are going through the head as the game is going.
“But Rondo was doing a really nice job of just being a point guard out there, so we stuck with Rondo,” Walton continued. “Then obviously Tyson, he was doing a good job getting up on those 3-point shots on the screen, kind of being there to stop the ball, and we obviously could use his rebounding like we did down the stretch.”
Chandler’s rebounding was key down the stretch in his first game with the Lakers, with his three late tips helping the team keep possession and seal the game with free throws.
So was Rondo being in necessary to keep Chandler on the floor? Walton apparently felt that he was, and after the game Chandler echoed that sentiment, calling Rondo “a huge help” who was “telling me where to be at all times.”
Rondo getting Chandler — who was very effective in his debut — in the right positions is a sort of intangible thing that can’t be measured by stats, although it might be partially reflected by Rondo posting a net rating of +18.9 (meaning the Lakers outscored the Wolves at a rate that would equal 18.9 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor) compared to Ball’s -14.6 net rating.
Now, single-game net ratings are statistically noisy as hell — and effected by Ball playing with a starting unit that was ripped apart by the Wolves — and the eye test seemed to paint a picture of Ball as the more effective individual defender on the night.
That said, the numbers and the result back up Walton on this one, so while it might not be the greatest process for developing Ball long term, on a night the Lakers got a much-needed win it’s hard to argue too heartily with Walton’s choice.
Or do, it’s a free world and people argue over plenty of less meaningful things on the internet every day. Have at it in the comments, if you so choose.
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen. You can listen to Grant and Christian debate whether Ball should’ve played more (and much more) on the Silver Screen and Roll podcast below.