Lakers: Developing Youth and Winning Are Not Mutually Exclusive


Of all the flaws coach Byron Scott has demonstrated, the one that should really grind fans’ gears is his belief that developing the young Lakers and winning games are mutually exclusive.

In a recent ESPN interview, after Tuesday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, Byron Scott said a variety of things which should concern fans. The first being that winning games comes first and the development of young players comes second.

"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"

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Scott went on to say, “That’s my job, to try to win basketball games and in the meantime try to develop young people.”

This is frightening for many reasons, including the idea that, if Byron Scott is really trying to win these games, the Lakers are in serious trouble.

Next, if Scott thinks that practice — “not a game, not a game, not a game, we talkin’ ’bout practice” — is really where you, “work on the development part,” then problems are more serious than imagined.

Most concerning is Scott’s delusion that developing the Lakers youth and losing games are synonymous. When speaking about his decision to bench D’Angelo Russell the entire fourth quarter he said, “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.”

In actuality, looking at the box score, Lou Williams didn’t even necessarily keep the Lakers in the contest. Williams posted a +/- ranking of -9 while D’Angelo Russell put up a -2. This means that the Lakers were, by definition, 7 points worse when Williams was on the floor. The end of the game freethrows could have accounted for this disparity but what Scott still fails to credit is the cohesion Russell was bringing to the team.

Russell was taken out of the game late in the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul, which resulted in an Emmanuel Mudiay 4-point play, but was never brought back into the game. When he left the game, the Lakers were down by 5 points; Los Angeles eventually lost by 11, almost validating the +/- statistic.

Denver head coach, Mike Malone, on the contrary, allowed Mudiay to stay in the game, where he knocked down various threes, and assisted multiple game changing buckets, while Russell rode the pine.

Russell finished with a team-high six assists, many of them to Jordan Clarkson for wide open threes. It can be taken even further to say that without Russell, Clarkson likely wouldn’t have even put up 30. Once Russell was benched, Clarkson’s production almost disappeared as shown by his lackluster fourth quarter.

Despite a poor shooting night, Russell brought more to the table than simply scoring or drawing fouls. This was the first game Russell looked remotely comfortable in a Lakers uniform and Scott stripped him of a Purple and Golden opportunity to gain much needed fourth quarter experience.

The irony comes in the fact that Scott was also the head coach for superstar point guards, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, when they were rookies. Even more shocking, is that both of these players went on to win Rookie of the Year.

So, what’s the difference?

Paul and Irving both had the back court, and hell, the entire court to themselves. There was no Kobe Bryant or Jordan Clarkson to stifle their development; neither had to “earn” their minutes.

Instead, both were able to run the team to their pleasing. Not surprisingly, Russell is averaging less minutes than CP3 and Irving in their rookie years through four games (CP: 32.8 mpg, Irving: 26.9 mpg, Russell: 24.2 mpg).

Next: Finding Positives and Keeping Sight of the Goal

Regardless of situation, personnel or organization, Byron Scott must find a way to get back to his roots, or prepare to reap what he’s sowed.