20 games into the NBA season, head coach Luke Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves with a 10-10 record. While only at .500, the progression and results the Lakers have shown early on have the fans optimistic for what the future holds. Although injuries to the starting lineup have altered the rotation, second unit players such as Lou Williams, Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black have had to step up.
The second unit of the Lakers is something Walton can proudly boast about, as it seems his starting lineup has received most of the praise this season. The Lakers continue to struggle in the first quarter until the second unit enters and brings this renewed sense of focus on the floor.
While the young players such as Nance and Jordan Clarkson have excelled with the second unit, Williams has provided the clutch scoring and veteran play. When Williams came to Los Angeles in free agency, he was joining the Lakers after what was viewed as the peak of his career.
Upon being awarded the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award, he signed with the Lakers. However, Williams has certainly exceeded expectations this season, providing continual clutch shots late in the game when perhaps the young core is stagnant.
He and Nick Young have turned into the sharpshooters on the roster, spacing the floor for the young core to attack the basket and use pick-and-rolls. With Young out 2-4 weeks, Williams has been given the green light in terms of scoring, with him certainly not backing down.
Backup center Black, who provides that consistent energy and rim protection when entering the game, held a high opinion about Williams, just as his teammates do. When asked about Williams potentially winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award a second time, he insisted that it should be given to Williams, via Mark Medina of the O.C. Register:
“With the way our unit is doing, the way we’re winning this year and the way things have turned around, he definitely should win,” Lakers forward Tarik Black said. “I can’t think of anyone else to give the Sixth Man of the Year to.”
Before Friday’s contest against the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers rank first in the NBA in bench scoring (52.6 PPG). Also of note, the Lakers’ bench leads the league in assists (10.4) and steals (5.3).
On the season, Williams is averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game (45 FG%), with 3.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds. His ability to create shots, not only for himself but also for his teammates’ results in him taking over the ball-handling situations.
By using the screens set by Black and Nance, his versatility in each direction causes mismatches. He is currently tied for fifth in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring, averaging 7.4 points alongside Kyle Lowry. While certainly not the star on this Lakers’ team, Williams has carved his role out with his consistent production.
Nance, who also plays alongside Williams in the second unit, also had high praise for his teammate. When asked if Williams belongs in the discussion for the award, he said it would be preposterous if he weren’t:
“He absolutely belongs in that conversation,” Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. said of Williams. “I don’t think anyone would question that. If he weren’t in that conversation, that would be silly.”
The Lakers bench unit has saved multiple contests this season with their consistent hustle, pace, and unselfish playing style. Black recently stated that the second unit not only wants to be the best bench, but the best lineup in the NBA.
The high basketball IQ in the second lineup sets the stage, as their unselfish style has provided a foundation to play with.
Williams reiterated after the last game that he is more concerned with making his points count and words model something, rather than being a player that talks all the time. He makes a return to his old stomping grounds on Friday, as the Lakers prepare for a showdown against the Raptors.