When LeBron James inked his four-year, $154 million deal with the Lakers this summer the five-year rebuilding era in Los Angeles came to an abrupt end, and expectations were immediately raised across the board. Especially for the team’s young players.
More than half of the Lakers’ roster is made up of players with less than three years of experience in the NBA and at least four of them see significant minutes. It might not always seem like it, but James inherited a young team.
However, there are also a number of serviceable veterans on the roster this season, and if the young players aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, head coach Luke Walton said he has no problem taking them out of the game.
“This year it’s more of we’re coaching and teaching these things, and if you don’t do them, you’re going to sit on the bench,” Walton said of the differences in how the Lakers develop their young players now versus the last few years before the Lakers faced the Mavericks on Friday.
“Last year, we want you to fight through it and figure it out and if you’re not doing it we might lose, but we’re still going to play you 35 minutes and you’re going to get the experience of feeling that,” Walton continued. “We still were obviously trying to win every game we could last year, but it’s a shorter leash when you have more vets on your team.”
Arguably no one on the team knows just how short Walton’s leash is more than Lonzo Ball.
Ball has seen his overall playing time increase since Rajon Rondo suffered a broken hand, but his playing time in the fourth quarter has still been inconsistent.
In the last eight games, Ball has averaged 5.5 minutes per game in the fourth quarter. In two of those games, he’s sat the entire final period.
Ball spent almost his entire summer in a knee brace, so it’s understandable why he might need a little extra time than his teammates, but how does Walton develop young players like Ball while trying to win games?
“It’s every game,” Walton said. “Practice is always limited now once you get into season, but it’s in the film room on days that we don’t go hard on the court. If we do have good time for a practice then (the development is) on the practice court. It’s everywhere we can find time to make improvements.
“That’s why it’s normally a slow and steady pace as far as developing guys. You want to get better by the end of the year, and within the first month it doesn’t normally happen.”
It’s a balancing act that can be frustrating for fans on some nights, but it’s one of that has worked out all right so far. The Lakers currently sit at the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference with a 13-9 record, 2.5 games back of the No. 1 seed.
If Ball and the rest of the Lakers’ young core can successfully develop with the time they’re given, it’s only a matter of time before the team is climbing higher in the standings.
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