Neither Julius Randle nor D'Angelo Russell played a single fourth quarter second of Tuesday's narrow 97-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings, as Lakers coach Luke Walton opted to go with the group that brought him back from down 13 points earlier in the game.
"Actually, Luol (Deng) was doing a good job, too, but I wanted Brandon (Ingram) to get those final three minutes of a close game type of thing," Walton explained that he decided his 19-year-old lottery pick could learn from being on the court at the end of an NBA game that still hung in the balance.
Ingram is 19, and putting him back in the game for a veteran that is a dozen years older than the rookie makes sense, even if Deng had played a notable role in the comeback.
However, this selective favoritism led to the natural questions about whether the Lakers' coach views end of game experiences for 20-year-old D'Angelo Russell differently than he views those same experiences for Ingram.
"This is Brandon's first chance at it," the coach explained. "So, every chance we get to get him to feel what it's like guarding different players, being in when you're down 15, being in when you're up 15, a one-point game with two minutes to go at home versus the road--all that at this level, he hasn't been a part of."
Walton even made a point to explain that Ingram feeling the physicality of the NBA at every opportunity during the season would be important to the former Duke Blue Devil during his off-season workouts.
"D'Angelo knows what it's like; he's played all last year and this year," Walton contended Ingram's minutes on the court as a rookie carried greater weight than Russell's minutes on the court as a sophomore. "He's been in clutch games. He's been in blowouts, so he has that experience."
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Walton, though, made a point to say that more minutes on the court would also obviously benefit Russell's development but pointed out that third-year Jordan Clarkson being on the court for the duration of the fourth quarter also helped that guard's development.
"Now, obviously, we want more and more of that experience (for Russell), but we're also trying to get more experience for (Clarkson). So, if (Clarkson's) part of a group, we want him to earn, he earned with that group the opportunity to finish a game."
Walton explained that a case could be made to put Russell in for Lou Williams, but the veteran guard had almost single-handedly carried the Lakers back into the game by tabbing 19 points and four assists during the fourth quarter. A better argument would have been to take minutes away from Nick Young, but Walton had made his point.
For Walton, game time minutes on the court hold value, and Clarkson earning minutes to finish a game out supersedes simply tossing Russell back on the court. Similarly, second-year power forward Larry Nance Jr. playing in the fourth quarter over third-year Julius Randle cannot exactly be considered as a move designed to stunt the growth of the Lakers' young players.
When it comes to Ingram, though, Walton made it clear that those minutes matter more than they do for guys like Russell, Randle, Clarkson or Nance, who have all managed to get at least one full season under their belts.