The Anatomy of Walton

In a league of over 400 players, some just “get it” a little more than others. From Kobe Bryant’s uncanny ability to determine when the perfect moment is to take over a game to Tim Duncan’s perfect readings of an opponent’s defense, basketball I.Q. is an innate quality that takes careful nurturing. For the Lakers’ Luke Walton, his growth as a player has been both an organic and developmental process.

Most fans are already familiar with Walton’s upbringing and former NBA star father. Despite the obvious expectations, Luke began to step out of his Dad’s shadow at the start of last season, carving his own niche with the Lakers and proving himself league-wide as a player who simply understands the game of basketball like few do.

This season has brought its share of disappointment, however, as Walton has struggled to find playing time due to inconsistency and injuries. Along the way, he also lost his confidence during stretches of this season.

Despite the obstacles this season has brought, Luke has remained optimistic, using his teammates and unusual knowledge of the game as crutches while he fought his way back into the lineup.

Finding playing time has not always been an easy task for Coach Jackson due to fellow small forward Vladimir Radmanovic’s return to form this season and newcomer Trevor Ariza’s emergence in the rotation.

However, thanks to hours of hard work on and off the court, Luke is finally making regular contributions down the stretch for L.A., highlighted by his 17-point outburst against the Sonics on Mar. 21. caught up with #4 to discuss the improvements he’s made over the course of the season and his mindset as his team heads toward a hopeful championship run.

Luke on how his innate understanding of the game and on-court demeanor have served as rocks for him this season:

Q. Have you always been a cerebral player?
A. I think everybody that’s made it this far picked it up a little more naturally than most of their friends. It’s something that always made sense to me, playing the game or the way that it flowed and I think that’s true for most everybody in the NBA or we wouldn’t be here.

Q. What players did you admire growing up?
A. Growing up, my heroes were Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. I used to love watching the Lakers and the Celtics battle in the ‘80’s, but since I’ve gotten older, I’m more worried about my own game and being my own player.

Q. What’s it like getting the opportunity to play with seasoned passers like Derek and Kobe?
A. It’s great because you can see stuff. When you have playmakers, you see stuff developing. If I can see a play developing, that means Fish can see it happening too and I can skip the pass ahead to Fish and normally we’re on the same page and he can hit whatever big man is running down the lane or vice versa so it makes it a lot easier.

Q. Derek and Kobe are both noted for their even-keel attitude on the floor. Have you always had a calm demeanor on the court?
A. It’s definitely developed. I’m still working on it. I still get pissed off a lot and I still get jacked up a lot. It’s something I’ve been working on—trying to stay at the same level throughout the game.

Q. How has Coach Jackson helped you remain at ease throughout this season despite the different obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
A. It’s a long season. You’ve got to stay mentally focused throughout and that’s one of the things Coach Jackson really teaches is to try to stay even and not get too high and too low so you can stay on the same plane so you execute your offense.

Luke on how he’s adapted to his changing role on this year’s team:

Q. You’ve played with both the starters and the reserves this season. Do you have any preference for which lineup you fit better with?
A. I enjoy starting, but I like playing with the guys coming off of the bench too. They allow the bench to run more, to get out there and make plays in the open court and I like playing like that too.

Q. What adjustments do you have to make when you’re starting or when you’re coming off of the bench?
A. You’ve just got to prepare differently. It’s different when you’re starting and coming in with limited minutes as a bench player.

Luke on his injury struggles this season and how he’s overcome them:

Q. Have you felt an increase in pressure this season due to the different challenges you’ve been faced with?
A. There’s a ton of pressure, especially playing in L.A. in a big market on a really good team, there’s a ton of pressure, but it comes with the territory. It’s something you learn to deal with and that you have to deal with because there’s always going to be something.

Q. When you were out with injuries, is there anything you did to help keep your game honed, at least mentally?
A. Absolutely. You take DVD’s, you watch the play on T.V. and you don’t just watch the game to watch it, but you actually try to pick up tendencies of what other players do—if they like to drive left or right or pull up and shoot or what they do. The film guys do a good job here of giving you breakdown edits on that.

Q. Have your teammates said anything to help you this season?
A. Just keep playing, have confidence in yourself and your game will take care of the rest.