Luke Walton agreed to become the 26th head coach in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers over a month ago, but did not officially get started until Monday when the team held an introductory press conference.
Walton was forced to endure a quick turnaround after suffering an NBA Finals Game 7 loss on Sunday in his final game as lead assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, but his head coaching tenure is off to a good start.
On Thursday, Walton’s new team added one of the two consensus top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft, selecting Brandon Ingram with the No. 2 overall pick.
There are plenty of reasons to be intrigued by the addition of Ingram to the roster. He fills a glaring roster need at the small forward position, and comes with a tremendous amount of upside, which helped make Mitch Kupchak’s draft day decision an easy one, and his new head coach certainly had no objections.
“We got the player that I wanted in the draft,” Walton said. “I don’t know if he’s the best or not, but he’s the player I wanted for sure.”
Walton shared the same sentiment as Kupchak in regards to Ingram’s potential as an NBA player, but the 18-year-old’s leadership qualities really stood out to his new coach.
“It’s a very important aspect to what causes winning in this league,” Walton stated. “You need leadership. You need cohesiveness. You need chemistry. And everything I’ve heard about this kid — he brings all those to the table along with his skill set.”
There is no question that Ingram can bring a supremely effective and compatible skill set to the Lakers on both ends, but can he become a franchise player that the team can turn to in any situation? Walton believes it’s too early to assess that, but when asked about that skill set that Ingram has in his arsenal, he was especially impressed with the youngster’s defense.
“His ability to make reads on the court defensively is one of the favorite things I’ve seen him do. Whether that’s switching onto different players or coming on the weak side and blocking shots — a lot of that is timing. It’s tough to coach. Kids that are really good at it kind of have a knack for doing it.”
Ingram’s perimeter shooting and natural scoring ability should fit seamlessly into the young core that the Lakers have built, and his potential on defense is something the team has sorely needed over the past few seasons.
While Ingram’s transition to a new set of teammates on the court appears to be one that will be fairly smooth, they got a head start off the court, courtesy of the team’s Twitter account.
Looking like teammates even before they were teammates. Squad dinner the night Brandon worked out in LA. #GoLakers pic.twitter.com/JdlgUS7Sqk
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) June 24, 2016
Kupchak mentioned that he invited the Lakers’ young players to join them at their dinner with Ingram, though it certainly was not mandatory. Still, they all showed up and seemingly had a great time with their newest teammate.
The first step to the offseason was to get a new head coach in place, and the Lakers hit a home run with the hiring of Walton. Next up is to assemble his roster, and the team is off to a fantastic start. The young core is in place, and now the front office hopes to give Walton some veterans to help mentor this group.
Everything seems to be coming together for the Lakers. Can they keep it going in free agency? July 1st is right around the corner.
All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com.