The Los Angeles Lakers looked to be dead in the water earlier this season. Head coach Luke Walton had coached the team to an 11-17 record, and Los Angeles appeared headed for another drop to the bottom of the league’s standings without even their own first-round pick as a consolation prize.
But then a switch appeared to flip. The Lakers have ripped off a 20-11 record since then, playing like a playoff contender, albeit too late to slip into the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Before his team’s frustrating loss to the Miami Heat on Friday night, Walton touched on what he believed was behind the turnaround.
“A lot of guys were still learning to play together. So the continuity of having time together and the confidence. When you play young guys, it takes time for them to figure out how to win games in the NBA,” Walton explained. “It’s not easy.”
The Lakers’ young players still needed less time than it takes the average group of lottery picks, but even once they started being more competitive on a more consistent basis, the results didn’t show right away.
“Eventually we were in a lot of games. We started winning a couple, and then we hit a rough patch and our guys fought through that and they came through stronger on the other side,” Walton said.
“Now they’re just playing with much more confidence especially down the stretch of games being able to get stops and things of that nature. Players are getting better and more comfortable with each other.”
The Lakers’ increased comfort together has resulted in the NBA’s sixth-best record over their 20-11 stretch. It coincides with a time period in which Los Angeles has posted the league’s 13th-best offensive efficiency and ninth-best defensive efficiency.
Those are the types of benchmarks that should fuel optimism about the type of leap the young roster can take with another year together as Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart look to make year one to year two leaps similar to the progress Brandon Ingram made this season.
If they can do that and the Lakers have a little luck in free agency, than the lessons Walton and the rest of the team learned during their rough patch before they flipped the switch this season will have paid off.