The Los Angeles Lakers found serenity now. The team avoided losing every game on their road trip by beating the Atlanta Hawks. Much like their last few games, the Lakers found themselves hanging around in the fourth quarter but broke the cycle and won the game.
The road trip could serve as a microcosm of how the season goes; a struggle to compete early, before learning how to win games. The team is growing under Luke Walton, providing reasons to be excited, even in a loss.
The road that Luke Walton and the Lakers walk on is considerably changed from the road Byron Scott’s Lakers were on. This is really important to note; the Lakers are in a different place even if they have a record similar to last year.
Lou Williams and Nick Young have been rejuvenated in Luke Walton’s offense, thriving in the looks that it creates. Williams is showing his vintage Toronto form off the bench while Nick Young is forcing Los Angeles to keep him on the team and earning a starting job with his stellar shooting. It isn’t hard to envision veterans playing harder in a system that isn’t rigged to lose.
Veteran signings like Timofey Mozgov, Jose Calderon, and Luol Deng have added a stable core to Los Angeles that can do a variety of things, but ultimately serve to form the young core that is expected to drive the team to the top.
The biggest change is how great the young guys look. The offense hums with exuberance and a short attention span. Turnovers come in bunches but the Lakers don’t let that affect them, often going right back into the fire with no mind to what just happened on the previous possession. It’s a team that’s playing before thinking, but that isn’t necessarily bad. Julius Randle runs the floor with natural instincts and couples that with his agility on the other end to make huge stops and recoveries.
D’Angelo Russell is making strides and is still showing that he can be the star that Los Angeles needs, but is becoming the leader that Los Angeles needs in the absence of old man Bryant. The quality has been there since his rookie year; no amount of Byron could have stopped that from showing. The Lakers will enjoy a future where Russell is used like Paul George was against them: capping off points and closing out the game for the team. This wouldn’t be possible if Scott was still here.
That leaves us with Luke Walton. The prodigal son returned home and is revitalizing a franchise that just lost its most important player in the last two decades. The culture shift was immediately noted upon his arrival, but even better than that, Walton has shown he could coach. It’s a bit early to judge Walton on his rotations as he still feels out his roster and the playing time has been fairly balanced so far. We should expect this to change as Luke learns what works and what doesn’t, but it’s good to see Walton recognizing what can help his players best succeed.
The Los Angeles Lakers are still in need of a lot more experience and quality. They will probably finish near the bottom of the conference, but make no mistake; this team is on the rise and is in a completely different place than last season.