Halfway through the season, Lakers coach Byron Scott is still giving asinine quotes to the media and ham-fistedly messing with the development of his number two draft pick, D’Angelo Russell.
Last week, Scott benched the rookie point guard during the fourth quarter of a loss to the Mavericks. After the game, Scott explained that he benched Russell because of his cockiness. “I love the fact that he has confidence,” . “When it gets to the point that it’s cockiness, then we have a problem.”
But as Silver Screen & Roll convincingly argues, only one of the five shots Russell took in the fourth quarter could reasonably be attributed to cockiness. The real problem is that the Lakers have a bunch of garbage offensive sets, run by a bunch of bad players, and yet if Russell decides just once that he can get a better shot on his own, Scott benches him. After the game Russell basically said that Scott—who doesn’t believe in analytics—values results over process, and wouldn’t have benched him if more of his appropriately taken shots had gone in.
The Lakers lost to the Hornets by 19 last night, their tenth loss in a row. Russell had a relatively quiet night, scoring 10 points on 3-5 shooting, along with five turnovers. Afterwards, Russell—whose coach benched him four days earlier because of his supposed cockiness—sounded lost as he described how he had stopped improving (though he also said he was remained confident):
After the same game Byron Scott—who benched his rookie point guard four days ago because of his supposed cockiness—said he was worried that his players would begin to lose confidence. It’s almost as if Scott vacillates wildly game-to-game, forgetting what he said four days earlier and unable to stick to any sort of long-term plan.
It gets sadder, as today Scott got into a war of words with Clippers analyst Don MacLean. On Friday night’s broadcast of the Clippers-Lakers game MacLean said that Russell should be entrusted with the offense, and if he turns it over 15 times a game, so be it. This morning MacLean reiterated his stance, going on the radio to call Scott’s schemes “archaic.” Scott was asked about these criticisms at practice today, and here is how he responded (via Bill Oram):
Well, first of all to Don, that’s why you’re not coaching. Let’s put it that way. You don’t let a guy go out there and just almost embarrass himself or kill himself by playing 35 minutes and creating 10, 12, 15 turnovers. I mean, the one thing it can do is self-destruct him as an individual. So what I try to do, as far as teaching him, [is to] also protect him from making mistakes like that, and from getting ridiculed after a game like that. My job is to help these guys develop and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.
And MacLean’s rejoinder:
Just because you choose to coach doesn’t mean you’re a good coach.
In the abstract, Scott has a point. While Russell needs minutes to develop and to be allowed to fight through mistakes, just throwing him out there on a rudderless team to flail about could damage him. Except, of course, for the fact that halfway though a soul-draining season Russell apparently retains enough cockiness for Scott to bench him for it: not exactly the mindset of a guy who is going to self-destruct after a few turnovers. And it’s especially rich hearing Scott talk about saving Russell from embarrassment went nobody has publicly criticized him close to as much as Scott has.
There is a belief that Scott’s ineptitude is actually a boon for the Lakers. If their draft pick isn’t in the top three it goes to the 76ers, and Scott’s stealth tank job makes that less likely to happen. Letting Scott remain in charge is a good thing!
This idea is wrong.
The Lakers already have a top three pick on the roster, and the most optimistic reading of the situation is that this will be a lost season for him. The pessimistic reading is that Russell’s ceiling is permanently lower, with Scott’s catering to Kobe, yanking around Russell’s minutes and role, and frequently public recriminations a major contributor. And that’s not even saying anything about the development (or lack thereof) of Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, or how the Lakers at least need to show a bit of promise or upward-mobility before they’ll seriously be considered a destination by good free agents (like this summer’s unrestricted free agent Kevin Durant).
Byron Scott winning his battle against D’Angelo Russell—and he will win, because he’s the coach—can only result in the Lakers losing the war. The sooner off they realize that, the better.
Photo via AP