Among the list of reasons the Lakers have struggled to find success this year, a lack of talent ranks at the top, but a lack of consistent production from role players also ranks highly. Many of the team’s aging veterans have had wildly inconsistent performances, sometimes related to the lack of rest between games, and sometimes because they’re old.
Late in the season and in search of any sort of answers, head coach Frank Vogel has turned to his youth to try to find regular production, and it has produced the most positive results they’ve had, as few and far between as those have been.
On Friday, the team turned to a familiar young trio of Malik Monk, Austin Reaves and Talen Horton-Tucker alongside LeBron James as the main core to close out a win over the Wizards. And while James pouring in 50 points will make any lineup successful, the Lakers around him found success on their own with timely drives and cuts whether James had the ball or not.
The end result was a fairly comfortable victory for the Lakers, and a strong showing from the youngsters that gained James’ trust.
“Well, I mean, we’re on the floor for a reason in the fourth,” James said. “And I expect those guys to make plays. Because they’re on the floor. And I know what they’re capable of. I know what Malik is capable of, obviously I’ve been in the foxhole with THT, and Austin has proven himself. So it was great to see those guys make plays down the stretch, especially when the Wizards started doubling my pick and rolls or my ISOs and those guys continued to make plays. It was great to see that.”
That trio of young players alongside James featured for four minutes in Friday’s win and had a surely replicable net rating of 88.9. Over the course of the season, they’ve now played 107 minutes together with a net rating of 4.2. That quartet has had six different players fill out the final spot in the lineup and only Carmelo Anthony — who, coincidentally, is also the most-common fifth player — has a negative net rating.
Stanley Johnson is the next most common player to fill out that group and in their 23 minutes together, the team has a 23.3 net rating. Even Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook, two players who have struggled mightily this year, have positive net ratings alongside these four.
Individually, when looking at performances in clutch minutes, only three Lakers rotation players have positive net ratings in clutch minutes, with Talen Horton-Tucker leading the team at 6.0 and Malik Monk in second at 5.8. Anthony Davis is third on that list. Since Dec. 28 when James began starting at center and the Lakers began removing much of the dead weight from the rotation, Monk, Davis, James and Horton-Tucker all have positive net ratings in clutch situations.
Previously, Vogel called the trio of Horton-Tucker, Reaves and Monk “consistent forces” this season, a phrase that’s near impossible to use with any other role players on the roster. The Lakers have needed consistent contributions this year and that trio has provided it, earning not just the trust of Vogel but James as well, two very important factors in their increasing playing time.
In a lost season, it likely won’t mean much for this year’s Lakers. But with two of three under contract next season and Monk having expressed his desire to remain in Los Angeles, those combinations also could be a building block for the future.