A new era is underway in the land of the Los Angeles Lakers, and it appears to be one that has taken a complete 180-degree turn in regards to their head coach.
Friday night, the Lakers officially announced the hiring of Luke Walton as their 26th head coach in franchise history, sparking mass hysteria from fans across social media outlets.
Not only did the team move on from Byron Scott’s militaristic style that seemingly emphasized isolation basketball on the offensive end, but they appear to have found a young candidate with upside that will instill confidence into the young core of the Lakers.
Walton answered a variety of questions regarding his new job on Saturday at the Warriors practice facility. When he was asked about the young talent that he is inheriting, he had high praise for all of them. Walton explained to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times what he has noticed with his new team’s young talent.
Randle averaged 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds in his first full season playing in the NBA. His rookie season was over before it really even started, as he suffered a broken leg in the very first game. He recovered well, though, averaging a double-double this season, despite an overall raw skill set.
Walton has also taken notice with Jordan Clarkson’s athletic ability, praising his ability to attack the rim. “He’s another active athlete,” Walton said. “He’s constantly in attack mode, which is what you want.”
Another athletic member of the Lakers’ young foundation, Larry Nance, Jr., surprised many people with his contributions off the bench this season, earning himself a starting role for a portion of the year. Walton, on the 23-year-old Nance, Jr., stated, “You’re going to have superstars that end up on SportsCenter every night but you need guys doing the little things.”
Last but certainly not least in Walton’s praise was D’Angelo Russell, who had his fair share of ups and downs this season. His lowest point happened to come off the court, but his new coach noticed the high points on the court that flashed just how much upside the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft has.
Russell’s best moment came against Brooklyn when he ripped the Nets all night en route to 39 points, including back-to-back clutch three-pointers to seal the victory. It was part of a long post-All-Star Game stretch that saw him start to figure a lot of things out before seemingly hitting a rookie wall.
After constantly being publicly criticized by Scott all season, Walton’s comments may serve as a confidence boost for the youngsters heading into the offseason, as they prepare to adjust to a new coach and system.
How much progress the Lakers make next season will depend largely on how much talent they can acquire this summer in the draft, free agency or via the trade market. It will also hinge on how much their current young core develops in their second season together. Having a coach that will empower them to utilize their talent is certainly a major step towards that development.
For Mike Bresnahan’s full report from the Warriors practice facility, click here.
*Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.