Los Angeles Lakers’ championships have always been linked to offense and the days of Magic Johnson.
That’s not to say those teams didn’t play defense, but the 1980s were defined by Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers who dazzled on fast breaks. The most recent titles were anchored by the triangle offense of Phil Jackson famously run by stars such as Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers are far from any title talk, but their offense appears to finally have found its direction under first-year head coach Luke Walton.
Walton won two championships playing for Jackson in 2009 and ’10, but he isn’t married to the triangle.
Instead, he’s brought a free-flowing style that allows guards to flourish, drawing from his time as an assistant with Golden State.
Los Angeles (6-4) is more than a third of the way to last season’s win total of 17, and Walton likes what he’s seen.
“We’re still pretty early in the play-calling part of the offense, but I love the flow that we’re playing with,” Walton said. “We’re getting more and more possessions. We’re pushing it.”
In their first season after Bryant’s retirement, the Lakers are averaging 107.8 points entering Saturday, eighth in the NBA. That number improves with the Lakers’ 126-99 victory in New Orleans on Saturday.
Their offensive rating of 104.2 (points per 100 possessions) is 14th in the league. The Lakers are third in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) at 103.15.
D’Angelo Russell, No. 2 overall in last year’s draft, looks liberated on the court. Jordan Clarkson has embraced coming off the bench. Nick Young has gone from castoff to starter. Lou Williams is reminding opponents why he’s a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Walton has tapped into the potential of Julius Randle, whom he’d like to see become the Lakers’ version of Warriors do-it-all forward Draymond Green.
Now the Lakers are fun to watch. The ball zips around. The youth has bought into Walton’s desire to play fast, which eliminates the need for him to micromanage from the sideline.
“We don’t need to call plays (in transition),” Walton said. “Guys are reading off each other, getting into the paint, creating for others and playing at the tempo that we’re looking for – really happy with the way guys are starting to pick up that team idea on the offensive side of the court.”
Walton was 39-4 filling in for Steve Kerr last season, or as cynics say, Walton just let the Warriors play. With the Lakers, he’s shown he can coach, giving the team a post-Kobe identity.
And as Walton, 36, and the Lakers grow up together, so will the offense.
“We’ll keep advancing this year, and once guys have got everything down to where you don’t even have to draw anything up on the board, then you start taking it to the next level to where if they take something away, what’s the options out of it and things like that,” Walton said. “I think it’s a never-ending process.”
‘This Can’t Be Life’ Award
It’s only right that the basketball gods (well, the Houston Rockets) have blessed us with the union of coach Mike D’Antoni and guard James Harden.
D’Antoni helped Steve Nash become a two-time MVP with his offense and turned Jeremy Lin into a phenomenon in New York.
D’Antoni and Harden equate to ridiculous stats. Entering Saturday, Harden is leading the league in assists at 13 per game, while still scoring 30.6 points per game (fourth in the league).
The assists shouldn’t surprise us. When Harden was with Oklahoma City, that team functioned well when Harden ran the offense and Russell Westbrook played off the ball.
And there’s this: If Harden takes some plays off on defense, the last thing D’Antoni will do is sit him.
‘Keeping it Way Too Real’ Award
“I’m a rich, white guy. And I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I couldn’t imagine being a Muslim right now or a woman or an African-American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person, and how disenfranchised they might feel. And for anyone in those groups that voted for him, it’s just beyond my comprehension how they ignored all that.”
That’s just part of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s nearly six-minute address concerning the state of the country following the election of Donald Trump as president. Popovich decried Trump for using “xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic” comments leading up to the election.
Popovich, Stan Van Gundy and Kerr where among white coaches who spoke with compassion for players following the election, which should not be overlooked in a predominantly African-American league where most coaches are white.
It’s not uncommon for players to wonder privately if their superiors relate or even try to relate to their concerns with social issues. Statements such as Popovich’s show there are coaches who do care.