The Los Angeles Lakers haven't cracked 30 wins since the 2012-13 season, but new head coach Luke Walton will attempt to reverse course and lead the Purple and Gold back to prosperity during his first year at the helm.
And if Walton hopes to gradually restore the Lakers' status as one of the NBA's most exciting young teams, he'll need to develop the talents of youngsters Brandon Ingram and D'Angelo Russell along the way.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, Walton said he sees big things ahead for the 20-year-old point guard:
He’s ready to take the steps forward in this league toward becoming a leader, becoming a top point guard and competing every single night. There’s a lot of growth to be had still. But he showed me he wants three things. He wants to be great. He wants to win. And he wants to lead. That’s what I want out of a point guard.
Russell averaged 13.2 points, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 41 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three during his rookie season, and his production after the All-Star break was one of the team's few bright sports as the Lakers stumbled to a 17-65 finish.
|D'Angelo Russell's 2015-16 Splits|
|Before All-Star Break||12.2||3.3||41.5||33.2|
|After All-Star Break||15.1||3.3||40.1||38.9|
The Ohio State product also established himself as a solid spot-up shooter. According to Synergy Sports' play-type data, Russell generated 0.99 points per spot-up possession. That figure was good enough to place him in the 62nd percentile—essentially even with Toronto Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan.
As for Russell's newest running mate, Walton didn't hesitate to temper expectations when it comes to Ingram's immediate contributions.
According to Medina, Walton said "we’re not going to throw him into the starting lineup right away" and later elaborated on his philosophy when it comes to doling out minutes to more inexperienced players:
You develop the young core by rewarding them when they play well. If there’s 10 games left in the season and out of the playoffs and there’s some vets that played long minutes all season, maybe you play all your young guys to finish out the season. But when you’re going through the season, you’re not doing anyone any favors just by playing young guys so they can play if they’re not out there playing the right way.
And while Ingram may need to fight for playing time at the start of the season, Walton hasn't been shy about praising the No. 2 overall pick's skill set before training camp.
During a recent meeting with reporters, Walton said he's "absolutely thrilled" with the progress Ingram has made since arriving in Hollywood, according to Lakers Nation's Serena Winters.
Ingram, Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle give Walton and the Lakers a stellar young core to mold in the months and years ahead, but playoff contention may be a bit much to ask for despite the recent additions of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.
"There’s going to be adversity and hard times," Walton said, per Medina. "People will be upset about playing time and losses. So it will get more challenging,” Walton said. “But all I can speak on is what I’ve seen so far in people being here. They’ve been phenomenal."
A return to the postseason is likely still a year or two away, but the Lakers could be in store for big things down the line if Russell and Ingram can make good on their superstar potential in Walton's player-friendly system.