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Q and A: Frank Vogel talks Rajon Rondo, the flaws of net rating, and whether we’ll see Talen Horton-Tucker this season

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Lakers head coach Frank Vogel spoke with Silver Screen and Roll about some random, wide-ranging topics in a phone call on Wednesday.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers and Anthony Davis both announced that they had become partners with First Entertainment Credit Union at an event held at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in L.A. on Wednesday. Davis, Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel, and players Alex Caruso, Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley and Jared Dudley all made appearances at the party.

Vogel took a break from the festivities for a 10-minute phone conversation with Silver Screen and Roll that touched on why he’s excited for the partnership with First Entertainment and to be a part of the Los Angeles community, before shifting to a few more niche and nerdy topics. We discussed his thoughts on the net rating stat that so many use to critique Rajon Rondo, whether we might see an appearance from rookie Talen Horton-Tucker this season, and more.

Here is a (lightly edited) transcript of our wide-ranging conversation.


Silver Screen and Roll: Why are you excited for the Lakers to partner with First Entertainment?

Frank Vogel: “They’re a company that represents our a lot of the things that we do in terms of the importance that they place on being active in the community here in Los Angeles, and the partnership that they have with Anthony Davis, and we’re all from L.A. and we all care about this community, and want to be a part of it together. We both run our organizations with a family approach, and we’re excited about the partnership.”

When you came here, did you feel like you were going to become a part of the community this quickly?

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that there was a family atmosphere with how Jeanie Buss — and Mr. Buss before her — ran the Lakers organization. And that’s something that is always special to be a part of. When you have that kind of connection with the people that you’re working with, that it is a family approach.

“That part of it is something I was excited about, but obviously the connection that the Lakers brand and the Lakers family has with the city of Los Angeles is something where I was hopeful that there would be a connection with the community, and it’s something I’ve been excited to be a part of.”

First Entertainment x Los Angeles Lakers and Anthony Davis Partnership Launch Event, March 4 in Los Angeles
Frank Vogel and Anthony Davis (pictured here at the launch event) have gotten off to a promising start in their first year with the Lakers, but Vogel says the team has “a lot of unfinished business” still to come.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for First Entertainment

Getting to you joining the Lakers, and your first year in L.A., if you had to give a letter grade to your performance so far this year, just evaluating yourself as a coach, where would you put it?

“I’d actually rather stay away from that. I think we’ve got a lot of unfinished business to accomplish. I think we’ve done a good job as a team this year, but ultimately we’re going to be judged and we’re going to judge ourselves on what we’re able to accomplish in the postseason.”

It seems like you’ve really tried to keep the locker room — and the locker room has done a pretty good job of this, too, of not really getting too high or too low based on individual results. Is that something that the team kind of came to together, or has that been important to you at all of your stops?

“It’s been an important approach throughout my career as a coach, just being around the NBA and understanding that we’re all competing for a championship. Whether (a team has) realistic goals or not, that’s the ultimate goal. The nature of the NBA season, an 82-game grind over several months, there’s gonna be a lot of highs and lows, and you’ve got to make sure that you want to manage your team to have an even-keeled approach, to learn every day and have a growth mindset every day.

“Whether you’ve won a game or lost a game, there’s areas that you can improve, or to highlight and positively reinforce. So it is part of the approach that I’ve always had, and hopefully that helps us build all the habits necessary to win in the playoffs.”

Going through that 82-game grind that you mentioned, one of the things that you’ve had to go through is assembling your rotation, and deciding how that goes night-to-night. I’m sure a lot of that is based on how the game is going and things like that, but I remember asking your earlier this year in a scrum about pace, and you pointed out some of the flaws in that stat, and I think one of the stats that’s come up a lot this year when talking about this team is on-off ratings, and the net rating of various players on the court vs. when they’re on the bench.

I was curious how you felt about that stat in general, and how much it influences your decisions on which guys to play, whether on a night-to-night basis or over the course of the season.

“I think from night to night that varies. I know the totality of it for the season has not been good, in terms of I’m sure you’re alluding to the on/off with LeBron, and we’re continuing to work on that.

“There’s a lot of ways to address that. You can change the people that are in the game, or you can change the way that you’re using the people that are in the game, and we looked at both ways to address it and we’ve had some success sporadically over the last few weeks. It hasn’t always been there, but it’s something that we’re aware of and we want to make sure that we’re addressing at the highest level so that we can have success in the playoffs.”

I actually wasn’t thinking too much about LeBron, I think over the last couple of weeks you guys have jumped into the positive with him off of the floor (Editor’s Note: The Lakers do have a positive net rating with LeBron on the bench over their last 15 games, according to NBA.com, so the adjustments Vogel mentioned seem to be working).

I was actually curious if you think that it captures Rajon Rondo’s value to this team accurately, or if you think that maybe there are some flaws in the way that stat picks things up?

“I think there are definitely some flaws. You can’t overreact to the numbers and stats, and particularly with a guy like Rajon that really impacts the swag and confidence of the group. I think that’s gonna pay big dividends down the stretch here and into the playoffs. So I think there can be a little bit of a misleading aspect to that.”

Where does that context get lost in those numbers, do you think?

“Well there’s a lot of other variables. You could have a group that’s out there that’s playing the right way, and for whatever reason has an off shooting night during those stretches. You could encounter a team that you’re playing great defense against that’s knocking down guarded shots. There’s two teams in play with all of these stats. Like I said, the team could be performing at a high level, but you run into a hot team that’s playing at a higher level. That doesn’t mean that you need to break the wheel just because of what the numbers look like.”

You mention the swag and confidence that he gives you guys. Beyond that, where do you think that those qualities show up for this team on the court? How specifically do you think that helps you guys?

“I think it helps with our intelligence. He’s one of the brightest players in the league, has always been one of the smartest players in the league, and his ability to identify what the other team is doing to hurt us, or to try to attack us. As well as finding holes in their defense and finding who’s the hot guy, and who needs to find good shots, and how to get guys the basketball. All those things move the needle for us.”

South Bay Lakers v Texas Legends
Talen Horton-Tucker has spent most of his rookie season with the South Bay Lakers, but he’s someone fans constantly ask about.
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

Staying in the back court, I know you’re not trying to look too far ahead, but you guys are coming down the stretch of the season here. If you start to get some seeding locked up, is there a chance that down the stretch we start to see any of the young guys, like Talen Horton-Tucker or either of the two-way guys?

“Well I think there is a possibility of that if we were to lock into seeding, but probably not prior to that, and that typically doesn’t happen until very late in the season. So I think we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but that’s probably a late, late-season conversation.”

How much have you been able to monitor all of their progress in the G League this year, and what’s stood out to you, if anything, about any of those three guys?

“Well we keep an eye on it as much as possible. We get reports on it after every game, and we try to watch games whenever we get an opportunity to. And we talk to their coach, Coby Karl, who has done a great job, was coach of the month this last month, and we get feedback on the things they’re doing well, and the areas they need to improve.

“And those guys, Kostas (Antetokounmpo) and DeVontae Cacok in particular have had really good seasons. And Talen, Talen has had an exceptional sort of rookie season, freshman year, whatever you want to call it, in the G League. He’s really worked on his body and has had a terrific year.”

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.