Luke Walton protects his in-game coaching with a secrecy that even Bill Belichick or CIA agents would have to respect. That said, Walton being noncommittal to any specific rotations isn’t necessarily a product of his typical secrecy: The Los Angeles Lakers are just so deep and versatile that he legitimately can’t decide yet.
“There’s a lot of rotations that I have written down that I want to see in training camp,” Walton told reporters after a practice earlier this week. “Even with what they call the small-ball lineups, within that, there are three or four different small-ball lineups that I want to see.”
Based on what we’re hearing from training camp, it would appear they’re using their practice time to find out what guys are capable of all over the court. A great example of this was when we all heard about Kyle Kuzma potentially playing some small-ball five.
Sure, Kuzma would immediately become one of the NBA’s smallest centers, but he’d potentially be surrounded by a 6’6” point guard (Lonzo Ball), a shooting guard who showed last season he can guard one-through-five (Josh Hart), a 6’9” small forward with a fighter jet-esque wingspan (Brandon Ingram) and LeBron James, who more closely resembles a cyborg than human being.
Technically speaking, that’s a small-ball lineup, but that’s a lot of length and strength, making up for the traditional size you’d expect from a center.
And that’s just one potential lineup. Get used to a lot of tinkering from Walton.
“A set rotation, I don’t see us (doing that),” explained Walton. “We’re a team where whoever is playing well, whoever is helping us win is going to be playing. Whether it’s to start games, finish games, so I’m not looking to find a starting five by game one and keep it the rest of the year.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys and a lot of it is feeling each other out, getting to know each other and seeing who is playing well together. So I’m not desperate to find a set rotation right now.”
This point can’t be stressed enough. Whoever starts — even whoever finishes — is going to be a fluid situation. What I’m more interested in seeing are the combinations that work best on the court and then how the coaching staff utilizes that information.
Now, the one potential issue with this style of coaching is the way NBA players operate and in specific reference to the habits they rely on to get through an 82-game season. In theory, this idea of rolling with whoever is hot or as Luke likes to put it, “playing the way the Lakers want to play,” makes sense. But it also opens up the coaching staff to make subjective mistakes based on what they’re seeing versus what actually might be going on.
What will need to happen for this to work is constant and effective communication between the staff and its players. So long as everyone remains on the same page, this can be an effective way to run the team. If there are lapses in that communication, the hot-hand style of decision-making can backfire.
To Luke’s credit, though, he’s shown a proclivity to relate and communicate with players. He’ll need to lean on that ability to manage this deep and versatile Lakers roster.