After years at the bottom of the NBA barrel, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel for the Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t had much to be excited about the last few years. The Lakers won 27, 21, and 17 wins respectively over the last three seasons. It wasn’t a very ceremonious way to end the legendary career of Kobe Bryant.
The short-term mentality to try and capitalize the end of Bryant’s prime came at the cost of their future, but the NBA’s lottery system rewards futility, and the crop of new talent appears to be turning the ship around. Under the direction of Luke Walton, the Lakers appear poised to return to the playoff stage in the near future.
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It appears hard to think of a better fit for this Lakers team than Walton. The organization has shown a preference towards hiring former Lakers players, as evidenced by the their willingness to stick with Byron Scott for as long as they did. Walton lead last year’s Golden State Warriors to a 39-4 record to start the season before handing the reins back to Steve Kerr.
Managing to use him in a way that helped both him and the team, while managing the less mature aspects of his personality, was one of the best things Walton did as a coach. While Russell doesn’t necessarily have as volatile of a history as Green, he has earned a reputation as someone that is immature and tough to coach.
His play to this point has been uneven, as you would expect from a young point guard. But Russell is learning to lead on the go and has helped pace his team to quality wins early. Wins over the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks this early in the season are surprising, especially with the adjustment period most young teams have with a new coach.
When you look at the Minnesota Timberwolves, their season is off to a far slower start. While they likely have better talent, the same level of composure and ability to close isn’t there. It’s a testament to the Lakers, and by extension their floor general in Russell.
Russell isn’t the only piece Lakers fans have to get excited about. Jordan Clarkson is off to a wonderful start averaging 14.2 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting. Larry Nance is proving himself to be a dynamic force off of the bench, and Julius Randle is contributing 14.6 points per game on nearly 57 percent shooting.
Through eight games the Lakers have five players averaging 14-16 points per game, with those players being Russell, Clarkson, Lou Williams, Randle and Nick Young. The Lakers are winning with team basketball and trying to get the best shots possible.
Brandon Ingram may be off to a slow start, but he is getting about 20 minutes per game in a manageable role. Walton’s rotation to this point has managed to present him with opportunity, without asking too much of the rookie.
Beyond the young talent, the team has proven veterans with a strong reputation within NBA locker rooms. Timofey Mozgov is known for being one of the best teammates in the league, despite his eyebrow raising contract. Luol Deng also provides the team with a solid mentor and veteran presence.
The Lakers are rebuilding the right way. They aren’t ignoring the human element of sports that Sam Hinkie neglected in Philadelphia. They have a network of strong voices throughout the coaching staff and roster that will help their young talent try to maximize their potential.