Longtime Lakers fans might recall what a “Pine Brother” is: a reserve of the Lakers squad, sitting on the bench and waiting to be substituted in the game. Legendary commentator Chick Hearn coined the phrase and it has evolved to “the bench” or “the second unit.”
The starting lineup normally consists of Lakers youths Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Larry Nance Jr., along with NBA veterans Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez.
The current “Pine Brothers” of the Lakers, or “the second unit” as head coach Luke Walton calls them, has proven to be a competitive force.
On the bench are veterans Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, both have been with the franchise for three years. Clarkson produced positive results as a sixth man, reaching double-digit points on five occasions as of October 30.
When the Lakers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 112-119, Clarkson scored 24 points and five assists. He currently scores 15.5 points per game, the same average he had during the 2015-16 season. Clarkson has the highest scoring average on the team so far.
Randle scored in the double digits in three of the last four games, averaging 10.5 points per game. In the Lakers 92-101 loss against the Toronto Raptors, he led the Lakers with 18 points. The fourth quarter was when Randle earned most of his points; the starters went scoreless during that period.
Rookie forward Kyle Kuzma comes in third on the team in scoring, averaging 13.7 points per game. Against New Orleans, he made 20 points and six rebounds. Kuzma earned 15 points for three different games, including the Lakers’ 102-99 win over the Washington Wizards.
During their game against the Pelicans, the pine brothers cultivated a 29-5 run in the second half to keep the Lakers competitive. For the win against the Wizards, Randle’s contributions in the fourth quarter and during overtime were in indispensable.
Although the bench has given positive contributions, their best games come from losses. The two wins the Lakers gathered, as of October 30, came from the offensive force of starters. Three starters scored over 10 points in the win over Washington.
Nance Jr. leads the team with 14 offensive rebounds. Ball’s 29-point performance against the Phoenix Suns was the highest score of any Lakers player this season.
Although the bench is talented, they struggle with solving problems that the starters could not. When the Lakers faced the Utah Jazz on Saturday, Utah went on a 17-7 run while the Lakers could not make a shot for five regulated minutes. The team trailed for the rest of the game, although Clarkson contributed 15 points and Ingram led the Lakers with 16 points.
When deciding on the starting lineup, head coach Luke Walton noted that he focused on chemistry among the players.
“It’s not about whoever being better or playing better, it’s about what units play well,” Walton said after the Lakers season opener against the L.A. Clippers. “Julius is playing really well with the second unit, Larry is playing really well with that first unit.”
The challenge that the franchise faces is making the bench compliment the starters. Reserve players have proven their ability to make shots, but they might not be allotted enough regulated minutes to help find victories.