Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton isn’t ready to do an overhaul of the starting lineup just yet, even after the second unit outperformed the first yet again in their loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
“It could get to that for sure, but we’re not there yet,” Walton said of being tempted to start the bench unit over the starting group. “We’re not sitting there in a staff meeting talking about making a full change to the starting lineup, but obviously like we’ve preached, nothing’s guaranteed.”
The Lakers first unit (which usually features D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, if all available) has struggled to find it’s stride this season, ranking last in the NBA in efficiency, points per game, assists and near the bottom of nearly every offensive category. Defensively, they haven’t performed any better, holding the worst defensive rating in the NBA (via NBA.com/stats).
In comparison, the Lakers reserves rank No. 1 in NBA efficiency and average a league-high 49.8 points per game. Defensively though, the Lakers bench seems to struggle as much as the starting group, holding the second-worst defensive rating of any bench in the NBA.
Still, Walton is sticking with that starting unit, at least for now.
“We have a bunch of young guys that we’re developing,” Walton said. “We like our starting group and we think they’re going to be fine, but obviously you don’t ever rule anything out.”
Though Walton has used the same starting unit (with exception to injuries), since the first game of the season, the ending five has seen much more variability. Walton has preached all season that he plans to finish games with players that earned the privilege by their play throughout the game.
On Tuesday, for example, Walton closed the game with the group that was able to get the Lakers back in the game: Jordan Clarkson, Nick Young, Lou Williams, Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac. Russell said after the game that he applauded Walton for benching him when he wasn’t “bringing it.” On Wednesday, Walton said he hoped (in a positive way), players whom he benched at the end of the game, would respond in practice.
“There was a nice little feistiness in practice with guys getting after it, so I would hope that some of that was from some people being upset that they weren’t playing yesterday,” Walton said.
The Lakers will have one final game at Staples Center on Friday night against the Indiana Pacers before embarking on yet another roadtrip.