With the Canvas of Russell, Randle, Clarkson, and Nance, What Masterpiece Can Luke Walton Draw Up?

Luke Walton jumped at the opportunity of a lifetime to become the Lakers' head coach. Now, it's up to him to take the team from perennial cellar-dweller to future contender. What can he do with the team's recent draft picks?

The Lakers’ young core have made no secret of the fact that they’re excited to move on from Byron Scott’s tenure into the Luke Walton era. While most Laker fans share in the team’s enthusiasm, they also expect the Warriors’ play style to translate to the purple and gold; that’s a tough task for a head coach coming from a historically great team to a historically bad one.

After Byron Scott’s implementation of the Kobe offense, the team is definitely looking forward to more passing around the perimeter. Whether they buy-in come fall is the real test, but each member of the Lakers’ young core has a potential role in Walton’s system if they do commit.

Obviously, Walton will be emphasizing ball movement as a part of his offense, but even more important for this Lakers team will be emulating the Warriors’ off-ball movement. While Russell and Randle have both demonstrated their ability to succeed in one-on-one matchups, the team’s easiest points will come when the team dedicates itself to off-ball action.

Nance and Clarkson stand to benefit most from subscribing to that style. Clarkson grew as a spot-up shooter last year; even though he shot around the same percent this past season as last year, he attempted double the catch-and-shoot threes, which ended up being around 19% of his total shots. In 2015, that was only 12%. That number will increase when running off the type of weak side screens that set-up the Warriors’ threes.

Nance also has an opportunity to shine with Walton. While most fans hope that Randle can progress under Walton with a Draymond Green-like projection, Nance is a much more promising prospect for that role, especially with regards to the defensive side of the ball. Nance has shades of the same defensive versatility that Green developed into an elite skill. Even though he’s not a freak athlete, he has the quickness to guard threes, and hasn’t shown any fear in contesting a center’s shot. His hustle on the boards also helps mitigate some of his size disadvantage against bigs down low.

Offensively, Nance has already delivered smart decision making, keeping the ball moving to more obvious offensive threats. But his growing mid-range jumper made him an effective pick-and-pop tool down the stretch; if he can extend his reach to the three-point line, he might carve a significant role in Walton’s rotation.

Nance’s utility in the pick and roll/pop game will either give him open mid-range jumpers or a driving lane to pressure the defense. We all know Nance can dunk on anyone in the league, but his willingness to pass gives the Laker offense even more possibilities. All he needs to do is collapse the defense just enough to give Julius Randle a driving lane, and the Lakers’ four of the future will have plenty of his trademark strong-armed drives.

Obviously Randle and Russell are the two members of the Lakers’ core with the most potential. Walton’s desire to play more up-tempo, free-flowing basketball feeds right into Russell’s elite playmaking. Randle’s strength and finishing ability will be an asset, but he’ll need to fix his jumper to maximize his value. Nevertheless, Randle has potential as a playmaker due to his above-average ball handling for a power forward, and with a developed jumper can emulate the versatility effect that Green has on the Warriors offense.

Russell, on the other hand, is tailor made for Walton’s playbook. Instead of Steph Curry’s legendary shooting, Walton will have to predicate his offense on Russell’s supreme court vision. In the open court, Russell will thrive just as he did at Ohio State and the few times he was truly given the reigns last year. Despite this offense’s reliance on ball movement, a smart coach like Walton will play to his starting point guard’s strengths, allowing Russell the opportunity to break down the defense and initiate the action.

The Lakers have been committed to the long-term view for a while now, but hopefully with another top three pick coming later this week, Walton and his coaching staff can begin building the foundation for future Laker successes with a few pieces already in place. 

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