Walton Previews Starting Lineup, Applauds Clarkson Off the Bench

Luol Deng has made some progress since bumping knees with Anthony Brown at Thursday’s practice. Deng — who missed Friday’s preseason game due to a bruised left knee — has been upgraded to questionable for Sunday’s rematch with Denver in Ontario, Calif.

Depending on Deng’s health, head coach Luke Walton said at Saturday’s practice that Nick Young or Brandon Ingram might start at small forward after having Metta World Peace occupy that role on Friday.

World Peace went scoreless in six minutes, while Young — who started the second half — tallied six points on a pair of 3-pointers. Ingram, meanwhile, was the only one to play in both halves and ended with six points on 2-of-8 shooting, but was a +18 in 17 minutes thanks to stellar team play from the second unit that he is part of.

The second-stringers were also responsible for rallying the Lakers past Sacramento in Tuesday’s preseason opener, and much of the reason for this group’s success has been the work of Jordan Clarkson.

The third-year pro started each of his last 117 games played, so coming off the bench has been unfamiliar territory for him. But he looks comfortable thus far, averaging 13.5 points in 20.0 minutes through two exhibitions.

Walton — who called Clarkson “maybe our most consistent perimeter defender since the start of camp” after his four-steal game Friday — was adamant that his reserve status was a result of wanting to stagger talent throughout the rotation rather than seeing him as unworthy of starting.

The head coach said that he “love(s) what he’s done so far” and compared Clarkson’s role to that of former teammate Lamar Odom and Manu Ginobili — two Sixth Man of the Year award-winners who were critical pieces of multiple championship teams.

“I don’t look at it as really coming off the bench as much as the way Lamar came off our bench but he was really a starter,” Walton said. “He played big minutes, played the end of ball games. Ginobili did it for years in San Antonio.

“It’s really a way of getting a starter in with the second unit so you don’t have a lot of drop-off. But he’s very good at that role so far.”

Love for Peace
World Peace was the last player signed to Los Angeles’ training camp roster and may have tough odds at making the final cut, but his 16 years of NBA experience haven’t been lost on the Lakers’ players, coaches and front office.

Before Friday’s game, Walton praised World Peace’s professionalism and ability to teach the younger players, while General Manager Mitch Kupchak said at the start of training camp that the minimum 28 days with World Peace in camp will be especially valuable to the team.

D’Angelo Russell, who forged a connection with World Peace as a rookie last year, called the 36-year-old “one of the best people that you can meet” and appreciated the funny stories he’d share and his outlook on Russell’s age.

“He didn’t treat me like a young player,” Russell said. “He treated me like that’s an excuse; being a young guy is an excuse. You can definitely attack it as far as being the best you can be at that age.”

Russell said it was “very surprising” how different World Peace was from his perception on the outside — something experienced by Walton six years earlier.

“Metta quickly became one of my favorite teammates,” Walton said. “I was a little worried when we signed him because all I knew was what the media said and from playing against him. … When I got to know him, I realized quickly how great of a teammate he was. He’s a very smart basketball player, too. He really knows the game, knows how to play team concepts.”

Walton and World Peace were teammates for three years and one championship on the early 2010s Lakers, and the former was impressed by how the latter stayed in physical shape through attention to training, nutrition and sleep.

But Walton, now World Peace’s coach, was also taken by his loyalty.

“He was always there for his teammates and had our backs and tried to do everything the right way,” he said.