Three ways Luke Walton can bring the Warriors' magic to L.A.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
That's how many more wins the Warriors had this season than the Lakers. So it's a given that Walton's coaching record (officially 0-0, since the 43 games he coached to start the season are credited to Steve Kerr, but unofficially 39-4) will get worse in a hurry.
However, Walton's success or failure next season in L.A. won't be dominated in wins and losses but instead the growth of the Lakers' young talent.
As he begins that task, let's take a look at what lessons Walton can take from his time in the Bay Area and apply in L.A.
1. Developing a PG who can play without the ball
D'Angelo Russell isn't MVP Stephen Curry, that's for sure. But the Lakers' first-year point guard does share with his Warriors counterpart an ability to be dangerous both with and without the ball in his hands.
In fact, Russell was probably at his best as a 3-point shooter during his rookie campaign, shooting 35.1 percent from beyond the arc and making 2.1 triples per 36 minutes. That actually understates Russell's catch-and-shoot ability because he attempted so many 3s off the dribble. On catch-and-shoot opportunities, Russell made 40.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
As a rookie, Russell wasn't effective running the pick-and-roll. In fact, his 0.8 points per chance on pick-and-rolls was the lowest mark for any Lakers player who ran at least 500 of them. In time, and with the addition of a better roll man, Russell figures to be a pick-and-roll threat as well, given his overall skill level.
The Warriors have been able to counter a variety of different defenses on Curry in part by moving him on and off the ball as needed. Walton can apply the same strategy with Russell because the Lakers also have a second capable playmaker in the lineup. For Golden State, that's Draymond Green. For the Lakers, it's Jordan Clarkson, who can also comfortably operate either with the ball in his hands or spotting up.
2. Striking the right balance from 3-point range
We're barely a year and a half removed from Walton's predecessor, Byron Scott, questioning the idea of a team relying heavily on 3-pointers. "I don't
believe it wins championships," Scott said in October 2014. "[It] gets you to the playoffs."
The 2014-15 Warriors would soon destroy that notion by making the third-most 3-pointers in NBA history (a total they subsequently surpassed this season) and winning the title.
For all Scott's bluster, the 2015-16 Lakers shot plenty of 3-pointers, attempting them at an above-average rate. The Lakers' problem was getting them to go in. L.A. shot 31.7 percent from 3-point range, far and away the league's worst mark. (The Memphis Grizzlies ranked 29th at 33.1 percent.)
The retirement of Kobe Bryant, who shot just 28.5 percent beyond the arc in his final NBA season, will help. Still, the rest of the Lakers would have ranked last in the league in 3-point percentage (32.6 percent), even without Kobe.
Walton can't exactly get his new Lakers charges to shoot like the Warriors, who happen to employ two of the greatest 3-point shooters in NBA history in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry smashed his own record for 3-pointers in a season while Thompson finished second in the league in made 3s.
The more relevant example for Walton going forward might be Warriors power forward Draymond Green, who is not the same kind of transcendent outside shooter. During his first three NBA seasons, Green made just 32.1 percent of 3-pointers, but he has shown improvement over the course of his career.
Notably, Green appeared more confident in his outside shot during Walton's time as acting head coach. Under Walton, 33 percent of Green's shots were from downtown, and he made them at an 40.9 percent clip. Those marks slipped to 29 and 34.9 percent, respectively, under Kerr.
Getting the young Lakers to find similar confidence beyond the arc would be a huge boon for Walton's offense.
3. Capitalizing on the value of a playmaking power forward
Speaking of Green, he might be the best template for Lakers power forward Julius Randle to emulate in his development. In fact, I drew that comparison -- on the offensive end -- earlier this season when looking at how the Lakers could move on after Bryant's retirement. (One of my suggestions was hiring Walton, so scratch that off the list.)
Ball-handling might be the best part of Randle's offensive game, and he showed playmaking chops at times during what was essentially his rookie season. (A fractured fibula limited Randle to one game during his first season in the NBA.)
Randle averaged 2.3 assists per 36 minutes, solidly above average (2.0) for a power forward and has the potential to improve with experience. Already, his passes yielded an effective field-goal percentage of 50.1 percent, fourth best among Lakers who made at least 100 passes to shooters.
As Russell improves in the pick-and-roll, Randle's playmaking ability could be an asset in the kind of four-on-three situations Golden State generates when opponents trap Curry. The Lakers could also eventually use Randle as a ballhandler on pick-and-rolls as the Warriors do with Green, creating mismatches if opponents are forced to switch those plays.
And if the Lakers win the lottery and draft LSU forward Ben Simmons, the Green comparison becomes even more relevant. My SCHOENE projection system says Green was the most similar player to Simmons at the same age.
Still, despite the potential for growth under Walton, we should be realistic. Unless Walton is able to bring Curry, Thompson and Green (among others) with him to L.A., the Lakers aren't going to play like Golden State.
And that's OK. The Lakers' young prospects have their own skills they bring to the table. For Walton to get the most out of them won't mean copying the Warriors' playbook exactly but instead taking the best lessons from it and adapting them to L.A.
Read this multiple times folks.
I don't think he's this golden boy coach that people are making him out to be but definitely willing to get him a chance.