There’s a different vibe around the Los Angeles Lakers practice facility with Luke Walton in town. The Lakers new head coach can be seen jumping in on drills, rebounding for the young guys and joking around with the players before practice. Forward Larry Nance, Jr., who described Walton as a “player’s coach,” even said Walton was knocking down a few threes from beyond the arc.
“I’m a fan,” Nance smiled after finishing up practice. “It’s a different feel and it’s fun.”
In contrast to the tough love, old school, authority figure mentality of former head coach Byron Scott, Walton’s coaching style and overall demeanor seem to be an early breath of fresh air for the young core. There’s something about Walton’s way of communicating that’s creating a sense of accountability and responsibility among the players, especially for second-year guard D’Angelo Russell.
“Demand of execution. Demand of making the right play. Holding yourself accountable,” Russell said about practicing under Walton. “If you don’t, he’s going to let you feel it. He’s got a great coaching staff around him that let’s you hear it if you don’t make the right play, and it helps you learn from it. You mess up, and there’s a teaching moment after it, and that goes into the next play. If you mess up, you learn from the last time you messed up. I feel like they do a good job of just communicating with that.”
It sounds like that communication is also rubbing off on Russell. Walton praised Russell for his vocal leadership and said his young point guard has been in “constant communication” about where he needs to improve, one of those areas being limiting turnovers, which Walton said he chatted with him about the other day.
During Russell’s rookie season, communication with his head coach seemed to be a frequent battle. Whether it was a lack of, miscommunications between parties, struggling with how to get through to an 18-year-old fresh out of one year of college, or simply a combination of all of the above (most likely) remains to be seen. But, while Scott was hoping to instill maturity and humility in his young rookie, Russell often appeared (at least to the media) confused about roles and what exactly his coach wanted from him.
It sounds like No. 2 draft pick Brandon Ingram will have a different first-year experience than Russell. Ingram told LakersNation.com that even in his initial phone call with his new head coach, it felt like Walton “was reading everything on my mind.”
“I really liked him,” Ingram said after his first practice with Walton. “How he wants to push the ball, play a different style. He’s a great guy.”
After a couple of days with Ingram, Walton was already raving about his basketball IQ, overall skill-set, handles, post moves, and defense.
“Ingram is a basketball player,” Walton said. “I’m very excited about what he can do. Now obviously he’s young and there’s a lot of work to do, this is a grown man’s league…But, I’m very excited about the way he’s played so far.
Julius Randle relayed his excitement about the hiring of Walton to the L.A. Daily News after the his hiring, also stressing that he felt Walton is a “perfect fit for us.”
“It’s a fresh start for us all,” Randle told Mark Medina in May. “Luke is going to be great for us and establishing the style of play we want.”
Despite not being on the roster, Randle was practicing with the Summer League squad this week, scrimmaging on the same team as Ingram. Walton said they’re encouraging the third-year forward to focus on getting more rebounds and push the ball.
As far as Walton, who between chasing a title with Golden State and the birth of his second child, hasn’t had a day off, he’s still loving every minute.
“This is fun, we’ve got a new group of young guys that are hungry to learn, and we’re out here getting to coach them every day, and they’re busting their tails for us, so I’m having a blast right now.”