With five victories in their first nine games this season, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton and the young, rebuilding core have built their own identity. Past the days of Kobe Bryant, this young team is beginning to show signs that they are capable of competing each night against any NBA opponent.
While the starting lineup has been providing steady production thus far into the season, the surprising note has been the improving production of the bench unit, headlined by Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams and Larry Nance Jr.
The Lakers bench unit is currently leading the NBA in bench scoring, averaging 48.8 points per game. Clarkson, Williams, and Nance have all been outstanding, while Brandon Ingram and Tarik Black have each had some impressive moments as well.
According to Walton, the unselfishness of the players has allowed them to thrive, courtesy of Mark Medina of the O.C. Register:
Walton attributed “unselfish play” for ensuring the ingredients add some spice without spoiling the meal.
“That’s a lot easier said than done in professional sports. People want to put their numbers up. They have friends, family, media and social media,” Walton said. “They’re putting the team ahead of ego. That’s awesome.”
During the Lakers’ comeback victory against the Sacramento Kings, both Clarkson and Russell were left on the bench during the crucial minutes of the forth quarter. Williams and fellow guard Nick Young took matters into their own hands, draining multiple three pointers on route to their 10-point victory.
While Clarkson and Russell continue to surpass stepping-stones in their careers, they understand the roles they have been dealt and how they can thrive by also learning from their veterans.
Clarkson wasn’t originally slated to start the season off the bench, but has become accepting of his new role. The third-year player recently stated that he is willing to run through a brick wall for Walton, showing the admiration the young core has for their first-year head coach.
When asked about how the bench unit has responded, Walton stated that the bench players are creating their own identity and running with it in the same way the Lakers bench did when he was playing:
“It was an identity we built for ourselves,” Walton said. “We hope that they take pride and build their own identity. What they’re doing is special right now.”
There have been many instances this season when the starting unit hasn’t been able to muster scoring opportunities. However, the bench unit always comes with a refreshed approach and is able to unselfishly pass the ball to one another.
Clarkson and Williams will need to provide consistent scoring off the bench on Saturday, as the Lakers gear up for a road showdown against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.