Time to play Randle & Clarkson more
Why Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton needs to tighten his rotations to give more minutes to Randle & Clarkson
Just as the Lakers’ young players need to learn and grow, the team’s second year coach Luke Walton needs to do a better job managing his rotations and rewarding the players who’re playing best with minutes and opportunities.
The Lakers are too young, inexperienced, and immature to win games in today’s NBA without everything going right, including the decisions made by their young head coach as to who starts, plays, and finishes games. Too often Luke has been obsessed with giving his “fantasy” lineups time to work instead of adjusting who he is playing based on how well they’re playing, whom they would be playing with, and whom they would be matched up against.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Luke and believe he will lead the Lakers to their next NBA Championship. I think he is the perfect coach for this franchise and this team. But I also think he gets too cool for school, like when he refuses to break up his bench when a starter gets injured, despite the starters struggling so much that the team habitually has to fight from behind in every game. That was a big reason why we stumbled when Russell got hurt last year.
I know part of the problem so far has been the fewer preseason games and the injuries to Lonzo and Lopez but Luke has contributed to the frustration with his questionable move to start Larry Nance at power forward despite his lackluster play, his stubborn refusal to start Kyle Kuzma to keep his bench intact, his puzzling hesitation to give well deserved playing time to Julius Randle, and his ill-advised decision to continue playing Corey Brewer and Josh Hart despite their continued struggles at both ends of the court.
So what can Luke do going forward to help this team get their mojo back and win some games? First, he needs to rethink who is going to be part of his rotations and then better manage his substitutions to play the players who are performing best and play with each other best. The Lakers are at a critical juncture in the season right now. They’ve lost two games in a row on the road and tonight are facing a Milwaukee Bucks team hot off beating the Spurs.
To start with, Luke needs to make some changes to his rotation, especially at the backup shooting guard and small forward positions where Josh Hart and Corey Brewer have been terrible. Until Larry Nance, Jr. is back from injury, we also have a problem with the backup power forward position. These are all related and the first step to resolving them is to give Julius Randle well deserved more minutes by playing as backup power forward and center.
There are 96 minutes at the center and power forward positions to cover and Luke would be wise to split those minutes between Brook Lopez, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle, much like Phil did with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom during the Lakers’ last championship run. This should be the Lakers’ rotation strategy until Larry Nance, Jr. returns from his injury. What we don’t want to see is Luke giving those minutes to Bogut or Zubac.
The other player who deserves to play more is Jordan Clarkson, who should be given more minutes by having him backup at point and shooting guard. There are 96 minutes at the point and shooting guard positions and Luke would be wise to split those minutes between Lonzo Ball, KCP, and Jordan Clarkson. While I love Hart’s defense, Josh’s shooting is 0 for November and right now we could use Clarkson’s superior offense and 3-point shooting.
Finally, we have a problem at backup small forward where Corey Brewer has struggled to reprise the defensive impact he had guarding Devin Booker or shoot the ball efficiently spotting up behind the arc or attacking in transition. Once Larry Nance, Jr. returns from injury, the Lakers can give him minutes at power forward and Kuzma can slide over to the 3 to backup Ingram. In the meantime, Luke can use Thomas Bryant in the same way to free Kuzma.
The other problem Luke needs to address is adjusting matchups when other teams are successful taking advantage of our defensive switches. Last night was the first time in a while that our bigs couldn’t contain the other team’s guards and our guards couldn’t defend the other team’s bigs. Against the Celtics, their bigs attacked the boards on offense rather than retreating to stop our transition game and Luke never adjusted his lineup or approach.
I’ve always been a big believer in forcing teams to adjust to how we’re playing but when that’s not working, you simply have to adjust and better matchup if you want to get back into the game. Most of the time, we are simply not good enough to roll out a lineup and make other teams adjust to how we play. As teams see more and more video on us, we’re going to see more teams creating schemes to punish us when we switch on defense or leak out in transition.
That’s why Luke needs to tighten up the rotation and give Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson and maybe Thomas Bryant more minutes rather than trying to find playing time for Brewer, Hart, Zubac, Bogut, Ennis, or Deng. Our young head coach needs to adapt and adjust just like his young players.