The Los Angeles Lakers are a dismal 0-4 on the young season in a daunting Western Conference. Even the most optimistic fans likely realize this team isn’t winning a title this season the way it is constructed.
Rather, Los Angeles could look toward the rest of the 2015-16 campaign as a way of developing a promising young core consisting of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle while still finding a way to win some games with established veterans. That is a tricky balance, and head coach Byron Scott discussed it, per Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:
That is the reality. But the second part of that goal is you’ve still got to develop the young core of guys that you have. That’s my job, to try to win basketball games and in the meantime try to develop young people.
I’m not always thinking about necessarily developing them. I’m always thinking about trying to win. I’m always thinking about trying to win. The development part comes secondary to that, but in practice and everything is where you really work on the development part.
Despite the presence of the talented youngsters, Kobe Bryant leads the team with 15.5 field-goal attempts per game. Bryant has always been a high-volume shooter and is going to play significant minutes even at age 37 because of his Lakers legacy and all he has done for the franchise as a five-time champion.
However, Clarkson, 23, and Randle, 20, are second and third in field-goal attempts per game, respectively, so the young players have established their roles in the offense.
The issue may be with Russell, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. He did not play a single minute in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, while veteran Lou Williams saw 33 minutes of action. It was the second time in four games Russell did not play in the final period.
It must be noted Williams scored 24 points Tuesday, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter. Scott discussed that aspect of his decision-making, per Holmes: “Basically, you had a decision to make—do you keep the guy out there who is keeping us in it or bring the young fella back in. I chose to go with Lou.”
Russell offered his take on the situation, as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times pointed out:
It is far too early to panic with Russell, especially since he is only 19 years old and still has plenty of time to develop and grow. However, part of that process will likely consist of playing crunch-time minutes if the Lakers ever plan on relying on him late in games.
Scott talked about Russell’s status in the context of Tuesday’s outing, per Holmes:
I think he knows that he has to earn minutes, especially [late] in games when they’re on the line. If Lou wasn’t playing well, I would’ve brought [Russell] back in. It’s more with me, who’s playing well at that particular time?
Just keep playing. Cut down the mistakes. Continue to run the offense. Do a better job on the defensive end. All the little things.
The Lakers will be better off the rest of this season and in the future if Russell begins to do just that.