Before Monday’s game against the New York Knicks, head coach Luke Walton essentially announced that the Los Angeles Lakers’ youth movement was officially underway. Brandon Ingram and Tarik Black replaced Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov in the starting lineup and all of the Lakers’ young players were part of the rotation.
Walton had spoken about the team really focusing on development as the season went farther along and they fell closer to the bottom of the standings, but that was the first major step. It paid off in the first game as the Lakers enjoyed a 121-107 win over the Knicks, but Walton is wary of the young players’ mentality as they see an increase in playing time.
Before Monday’s game Walton spoke about making sure the young core knew that they were still expected to play the right way, or risk getting benched according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes:
“They’ll have some leeway, but at the same time, I told them it’s not the freedom to just go and do whatever you want because you young guys are going to play no matter what. We’re still expecting them to follow the rules and play a certain way, and if that doesn’t happen, the only way to teach at that moment is to take their minutes away. So it’s not a free-for-all with the minutes and the lineup.”
Walton is very wise to take this approach with his young players. Obviously he wants them to get as many minutes as possible in order to further their development, but he also has an idea of what he expects from his guys and they’ll play that way in order to keep their spot in the rotation.
With Ingram, Black, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle all in the starting lineup, and Ivica Zubac, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson playing big minutes off the bench, Walton will have a chance to evaluate his young talent for the remainder of the season. And if they aren’t playing how they are supposed to, Walton won’t hesitate to discipline them with a spot back on the bench.