The Los Angeles Lakers are on a three-game winning streak, but the team is still far from a finished product. L.A. still turns the ball over far too much, and the rock tends to stick on offense outside of transition, which is why it was a welcome sight for head coach Luke Walton when he noticed Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma were both making extra efforts to move the ball in the team’s win over the Mavericks on Friday.
After the game, Walton explained why Ingram and Kuzma continuing to do so is so valuable for the Lakers.
“They’re both good playmakers, and they both can create for others because they can collapse a defense and they can draw two (players) with their offensive ability,” Walton said. “Something we’ve been talking to both of them about all year is ‘make that extra pass, it’ll come back to you as the team develops that type of personality.’”
Walton was so pleased that he made a point to tell both players they were passing just like he wanted at halftime of that win, encouraging the two to keep it up.
“Both of them were doing an incredible job of playing unselfish and making the right pass and the appropriate pass every single time,” Walton said. “Both of them were very good with that tonight.”
They haven’t been good with it all season. Of Lakers players to appear in more than eight of the team’s 23 games, Ingram (who uses 22.1 percent of Lakers possessions while on the floor) and Kuzma (21.4 percent) rank second and fourth in usage rate, respectively.
Among that same group of players, Ingram and Kuzma are sixth and seventh in assist percentage, or the percentage of teammates’ field goals they assist while on the floor. Kuzma also ranks ninth on the team in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.28), while Ingram ranks 11th (0.96) and is averaging slightly more turnovers per game (2.4) than assists (2.3).
For a team that has struggled to move the ball effectively outside of transition and is tied for fifth-worst turnover percentage in the league — the Lakers cough up the rock on 15.4 percent of their possessions — that’s a problem.
Over the last two games, Kuzma and Ingram have started to reverse it. Ingram is fourth on the team in assist-to-turnover ratio over that span (1.4). That isn’t great, but it’s better. Kuzma has jumped all the way up to first, posting three assists for each turnover he has over that stretch.
Two games is a small sample size and doesn’t necessarily indicate a trend — especially when the Lakers have played bad opponents — but the changes Walton noticed may still be meaningful because they reflect a mentality change, something Kuzma talked about when I asked him if he’d altered anything about the way he’s passing the ball.
“I’ve just been making a bigger effort to look for my teammates,” Kuzma said. “It’s paying off. Just trying to have an all-around game more.”
I guess it’s just that simple, and it’s also been part of Kuzma’s larger efforts to prove he’s more than just a scorer. If the change can become a trend for both him and Ingram, then the Lakers might finally be able to make some progress on offense to match their already stellar defensive improvement. We’ll see if the two young forwards can keep this up against some better teams soon.