When Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton criticized Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram for a lack of “passion and fire” earlier this month, it was a notable change in tactics for the normally laid-back coach.
Walton has mostly went out of his way to defend his young players in the media over his two-plus years as coach so far, but it was clear that he was taking the kiddie gloves off for the team’s young cornerstones when he needed them to play up to their potential now in the absence of LeBron James.
Ball had previously spoken about how Rajon Rondo keeps him sharp and motivated with trash talk, but whether his coach’s public rebuke would have the same effect wasn’t immediately clear.
However, in the four games since Walton’s remarks, Ball has averaged 8.3 points, 6.5 assists and 6.3 rebounds, and the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions while Ball is on the floor, much better than their -2.7 overall net rating during that span.
Ball told Sam Amick of The Athletic that his production since that moment is evidence that Walton’s approach worked, while also giving insight into Walton’s overall coaching style:
“He’s a very, very chill coach, you know what I mean?” Ball would later tell me. “He kind of gives players the freedom to do what they want to do. And this year, we’ve just got a lot of new players, obviously, and my role changed, and I’m fine with that. I just want to do what I can to help (them) win, and I think Luke wants the same.“(But) that comment challenged us. And we’ve been playing better ever since, so obviously he made the right choice.”
This is just the latest example of how, despite fans calling for his job and many deeming him a dead man walking, Walton does still seem to have the ear of the locker room. Players aren’t going to go out of their way to criticize their head coach publicly, of course, but they also aren’t going to talk about how much they appreciate their coach’s style without reason to, either.
Ball joins a chorus of Lakers that have voiced their approval of the way Walton coaches them, and it will be interesting to see which other members of the team speak up as the year moves along — and doubly intriguing to see if LeBron does or doesn’t.
However, none of it may matter if Walton’s coaching doesn’t push the right buttons to get the Lakers front office the results they’re clearly thirsty for. All of that will bear watching as this season continues to play out, but Walton’s latest move with Ball clearly worked, and if there is more where that came from, he may just earn another shot to coach whatever the next iteration of this Lakers team is.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.