Luke Walton, Our Saving Grace


For most of his career as a player, Luke Walton was a punchline. If you had a friend on your basketball team who’d only get subbed in during garbage time, everyone would call him Luke Walton. If you wanted to mess around in NBA 2K, you’d try and score 50 points with Luke Walton, just because he was so terribly awful. And if there was ever a discussion about the worst player in the league, Luke Walton was almost always at or near the top of every list.

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But in his second career as an NBA coach, his trajectory is trending in an entirely different direction. Though he only averaged 4.7 points per game for his career, Walton was always known for his exceptional basketball IQ, earning praise from his teammates and coaches alike. And now with Steve Kerr having to miss some time on the bench due to back surgery this summer, Walton has been tabbed as the interim head coach of the Warriors. For a man coming off only his first season as an assistant at the NBA level, that’s certainly a huge responsibility.

If anyone was bred to be thrown into the fire this early in their coaching career though, it’s Luke Walton. As the son of NBA legend Bill Walton, Luke has been around the game since he was a child. When his dad was a rookie for the San Diego Clippers, Walton and his three siblings would be sitting right next to their dad on the bench during games. A few years later, Luke would watch the legendary Celtics teams of the 1980’s conduct practice, even spending time at Larry Bird’s house for dinner afterward.

October 5, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton (right) instructs guard

Brandon Rush

(4) during the fourth quarter in a preseason game against the Toronto Raptors at SAP Center. The Warriors defeated the Raptors 95-87. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

By the time it was Luke’s turn to begin his own basketball career, he’d already spent most of his childhood soaking in the intricacies of the game from literally the best players in the world. But his dad still insisted that he play on the JV team as a freshman, where he ran the point and helped develop the basketball IQ that served him so well for the rest of his career. John Pastner, a former assistant coach at the University of Arizona, which is where Walton went to college, gushed about Luke’s knowledge of the game.

“He’s so cerebral … His ability to see things before it happens … you could run your entire offense through Luke Walton. He has one of highest IQs in the game today.”   Josh Pastner 

It’s no wonder that during the 2011 NBA lockout, Pastner hired Walton to serve as an assistant on his own coaching staff at the University of Memphis.

In a highlight dominated era of the NBA, Luke Walton was perfectly content with being primarily a facilitator in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, and was certainly a key role player on the Lakers’ championship teams in 2009 and 2010. According to Walton in fact, Jackson personally told him that he’d one day be a great coach in the NBA. And Walton has certainly lived up to Jackson’s expectations thus far. In just 14 months, Walton has become Steve Kerr’s top assistant and has been tasked with continuing to implement a complex offense, while also teaching his team how to recognize defenses and call their own plays, to give the players more independence.

Though Walton might be in a new position, leading a team using his brain is far from a foreign concept. Kerr isn’t expected to miss much (if any) of the regular season, but Warriors fans should know that if that changes, Walton is certainly the best man to replace him.

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