Of the new additions to this year’s Lakers, two appear to have most quickly discovered the lay of the land: Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker IV.
That was to be expected with Beverley, a thirtysomething veteran who has been on his fair share of playoff teams. But it’s been more of a pleasant surprise to see how swiftly Walker has acclimated to a new team after spending the first four years of his career in San Antonio. Walker had a quality preseason and was outstanding in the home opener against the Clippers, leading the team in scoring with 26 points and providing a little extra juice that was necessary to mount multiple comebacks.
Although a natural learning curve exists with a team that is working in many new pieces, Walker has found exactly where he fits in. In doing so, he’s set a template for the other Lakers role players. After the loss Thursday, Walker noted that the up tempo system Darvin Ham has installed makes a lot of sense for him and the rest of the team’s roster (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“We have a lot of athletic players, a lot of young athletic players who are ready to run, ready to go. We just got to continue to play with effort. You know, we got AD and LeBron and Russ. Those are our three-headed monsters, they’re gonna play the game, they’re gonna take us to victory. And so it’s role players — myself, JTA, Kendrick K-Nunn, AR — we just gotta play the right away we gotta run the floor, we’re young, attack the glass and just play great defense.”
The Lakers will have to play with pace, especially until their shooting comes around, because their half court offense isn’t efficient enough to keep up with their opponents. Early offense, even after makes, and attacking hard in transition are the best ways the Lakers can generate points.
Walker was built to play up tempo with his ability to make quick decisions and almost glide up the court. His otherworldly athleticism also makes him a perfect lob target on the break. Austin Reaves also works well in transition as a ball mover and pull-up shooter, something that Kendrick Nunn should be able to do once he becomes more comfortable, and Juan Toscano-Anderson likewise is a connecting passer who reads the floor well.
The Lakers are already playing at the second-fastest pace in the league, but they haven’t been efficient enough (they currently rank 22nd in the league in transiiton points per possession). You can see the passing miscues and forced shots when the Lakers get out and run; that’s where the team needs to find its chemistry because the opportunities are coming. Per Cleaning the Glass, they’re getting shots in transition on almost half their possessions after live rebounds — that’s a tremendous commitment to getting the ball up the court fast.
Walker and Reaves connected on what is the highlight of the season to date when the latter fed the former for a lob after LeBron James blocked Paul George at the rim. Those are the plays the Lakers need more of, simply to generate offense but also to boost momentum, because there are going to be stretches when the Lakers look to be playing in the mud and suck the energy out of the building.
It’s early, but it seems like the Lakers have enough defensive talent to be above-average on that end of the floor, or even better than that. They’ll have to leverage the fruits of that labor on the offensive end, and that means beating their opponents down the floor at every opportunity. With all of the responsibility that is already on their stars’ plates, this is where the role players can shine and bring their value to the Lakers.