The Lakers’ reserves combined to score just 7 points total in a 48-minute basketball game the team lost to the Grizzlies by five points. In that game, every single Lakers starter had a positive net rating, and every starter except for JaVale McGee played 34 minutes or more.
Every single Lakers bench player other than Lance Stephenson — who played just three minutes and change — had a negative net rating.
And while single-game net ratings are far from a perfect measure of success, the metrics here are so stark that without even factoring in the eye test — which also wasn’t kind to the Lakers’ bench — it’s not hard to see where the game got out of hand.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton didn’t blame the bench outright for the loss, but he did tell reporters on Spectrum Sportsnet that he needed them to be better, while also providing some extra context to further explain how little they played:
“We need more, but I’ve started limiting the minutes of some of the bench guys. They’re not getting the same amount of opportunity.”
Still, Walton reiterated that regardless of minutes, he’ll need more production from the reserves in whatever minutes they do get:
“We need some more from that group that’s been good for us.”
Walton is right about the Lakers needing more from their reserve unit, it just seems unlikely they can get it at this point, or at least if they continue to approach trying to squeeze out said production in the same way.
In the three games since the NBA All-Star break, the Lakers’ top-five players in net rating have been their starters, while the Lakers have been getting outscored during the minutes of every single bench player during that stretch, according to NBA.com.
Walton reducing the minutes of the reserves would make sense then, in some ways, but it’s also not feasible to have 34-year-old LeBron James playing 39.5 minutes per game while coming off of the first serious injury of his professional career (which is exactly what’s happening right now).
Nothing is going to completely paper over the bench playing like soggy garbage over the last few games, but one possible solution might be to stagger James, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram more. All three have actually played well since the break, and splitting them up a bit so that the bench would be playing with a few more creators might help the reserves’ production, and the Lakers’ results.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, while such staggering has happened a bit since the All-Star break, it hasn’t taken place a ton. Walton has played his starting unit together for 45 minutes since the break, while no other lineup has played more than seven total minutes. Of the two lineups to have played even seven minutes, one included Ingram, James and Kuzma.
Again, Walton is right to try and ride his starters. It’s just that with the Lakers losing right now, there is evidence mounting that it’s time to change how he does so. A coach will always (justifiably) want to play their best lineups the most, but there is an argument to be made that the Lakers would be well-served by experimenting with a few more combinations that don’t include their best three players all at once so that they can avoid moments where none of the three are on the floor.
We’ll see how Walton takes his next crack at approaching that challenge when the Lakers host the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.
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.