The Lakers find themselves testing the limits of the “next man-up” mantra and attitude that begins with Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton and ends with the last men on the bench. It has been some of the last men on the bench, literally, that have filled in nicely for the team.
Walton has demonstrated on more than one occasion that he would much rather keep one of the NBA’s best five, the Lakers’ Second Unit, in tact. Thomas Robinson, Jose Calderon, Metta World Peace and Marcelo Huertas are all players that with a “healthy” starting backcourt would ordinarily not be seeing the floor much, if at all.
Much is being made of the loss of D’Angelo Russell. When you factor in his 4.8 assists each time out, you can say that he has a part of at least 26 points per contest. Nick Young is fourth on the list of Lakers Top Scorers and Russell is two. Losing two of your top four scorers hurts ANY team. Marcelo Huertas filled in nicely last game with 7 assists and five steals last game. Huertas replaced the injured “back-up point guard” Jose Calderon. Calderon had previously filled-in for D’Angelo and had been playing steady basketball.
When T-Rob, Thomas Robinson, got the start when Julius Randle missed a game due to a “hip-pointer” injury he grabbed 10 rebounds.
So, the “next-man UP” IS stepping UP for the Lakers.
They are just running out of available players to back-up those back-ups. And, players like Jordan Clarkson and Luol Deng are not stepping up enough. Clarkson has had moments but has been inconsistent, including a 3-13 performance against the Rockets.
Deng? Luol is still doing the intangibles. He is hustling and making plays on the ball that do not show up in the stat sheet. However, at some point your highest paid player and “leader” needs to take the bull by the horns and ball. Luol has not done that yet.
He has complained about playing time yet when given added opportunity he seems to take “steps-back,” while those around him seem to “step- UP.” Surrounded by his youthful and more energetic Lakers Teammates, Deng seems to fade away into an obscurity of sorts. Almost forgotten about.
But, Luol Deng is STILL on this team and he is STILL a starter. I don’t think the Lakers have anymore “protected-picks” to lose for so at some point the Coaches have to look long and hard at Deng. Thomas Robinson has already shown that when called upon he exceeds expectations, brings energy and hustle and also produces. These are ALL things the Luol Deng is NOT doing.
Lou Williams has stepped up, hit big shots, played consistently and put his team on his back.
Jordan Clarkson has… well, Jordan Clarkson has worn a kilt.
He has to do more than that.
Way more than that.
Tarik Black’s energy and defense in the middle has been missed but the Lakers have Nance Jr. back who knows he has to step-up in Black’s absence. Robinson can also help fill that void.
It is easy to look at a 39-point loss and say that you need to play better defense. They also shot poorly (39% vs HOU 54 %). This includes Clarkson and Deng combining at 4-18 from the field totaling nine points.
Step IN, Step-UP.. Defend the perimeter against the quick guards of Phoenix and contain the middle against the Suns’active Bigs.
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