When the Lakers hired Luke Walton in the summer of 2016, it was not only because he was part of the Lakers family. Former general manager Mitch Kupchak was intrigued by Walton's desire to play an uptempo offense, similar to the Warriors' style.
The Walton hire was the first step in the Lakers' attempt to build the Warriors way. Rookie Kyle Kuzma reaffirmed this after Friday night's 113-106 loss to the Warriors.
"We want to model ourselves after Golden State," Kuzma said. "It is no secret. Luke coming from there, our personnel, our versatility, we want to be like them. It is going in the right direction for sure."
The connection and similarities between Walton and Steve Kerr are obvious. Walton got his start from Kerr as an assistant coach and served as interim head coach for the Warriors' first 43 games of the 2016 season. The influence that Kerr and the rest of the organization had on Walton was a large part of why the Lakers decided to put the franchise in his unproven hands.
It is hard to imagine any team being as successful as the Warriors in recent years, and it would be unfair to put those expectations on this young Lakers team. But the similarities between the two franchises are notable.
Building through the NBA Draft
The Warriors' success can be directly attributed to the front office's ability to find elite talent through the draft.
Stephen Curry may be a two-time MVP, but when he was drafted, there were a multitude of questions surrounding the Davidson star, particularly regarding his size and, as his pro career began, his durability.
Klay Thompson was a 39 percent 3-point shooter over three years at Washington State, but he has developed his offensive game beyond shooting and become an annual candidate for the NBA's All-Defensive Team. And as the 35th overall pick, Draymond Green was never expected to be the All-Star that he is now.
There are striking similarities with this current Lakers roster and the way they have drafted. Lonzo Ball was (and still is) a question mark coming out of UCLA just as Curry was coming out of Davidson. For Ball, the doubts come from his shooting form and ability to create scoring opportunities for himself.
Brandon Ingram and Thompson are both quiet competitors who managed to emerge as solid starters in their second seasons. Thompson started all 82 games in his sophomore season and increased his scoring average by more than four points while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Ingram has started every game in which he has played so far, and he has seen improvement with his scoring, shooting, passing and rebounding.
Defense wins championships
The Warriors are considered an offensive juggernaut capable of exploding for a 12-0 run at a moment's notice. And while this certainly is a large reason why they have had so much success over the past several seasons — it also does not hurt that they have four All-Stars, with two being former MVPs — their defensive prowess is at times glossed over.
Since Kerr became the Warriors head coach, Golden State has never been outside of the top five in defensive rating. So while the offensive efficiency has been incredible, the Warriors' defense is really what has separated them from the pack and made them so unbeatable. The Warriors understand that, in today’s NBA of constant movement and screening, you must have a team on the floor that is able to switch defensively at each position.
Walton was hired with the hope that he would bring "Showtime" back to LA. But bringing the Warriors' ferocity defensively was the real key.
Last season was a disaster for the Lakers on that end. They were last in the league in defensive rating, but this season, Walton has been able to instill a mindset, forcing the young Lakers to take pride in their defense. They are currently tied for ninth in defensive rating with the Rockets which has allowed them to stay in games when shots are not falling on the other end.
On the free agent market
The Warriors built a dynasty through the draft, but after losing to the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, they realized that they could always get better. They went out and got Kevin Durant (with the help of Green) and became the most formidable force in the NBA. You know the rest.
The Lakers are setting themselves up to do the same. With the potential to create serious cap space this offseason, the Lakers have the ability to add one if not two star players to their already talent-laden roster. The Lakers have long been rumored to be the preferred destination of soon-to-be free agent Paul George. His addition would be a huge step forward in the goal of mirroring the Warriors model.
Projecting that the Lakers will soon become the next Warriors would be a foolish move. Everything went right for the Warriors to become a yearly title favorite. But the Lakers are finally going about their rebuild the right way. And in following this blueprint, the future looks bright.