ust 27 years old, the idea of being a “veteran leader” is foreign to Wayne Ellington. But just one month after serving as a spot starter that occasionally would not even come off the bench, the six-year pro now finds himself in that unfamiliar role.
Ellington is the most seasoned player in the Lakers’ starting lineup, and it’s not even close. The other four members — Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly, Tarik Black and Robert Sacre — have a combined four years of prior NBA experience.
“Obviously I haven’t been in that situation of being the oldest, most veteran guy on the court at a time,” Ellington said at practice Monday. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in that position, let alone being the most veteran starter. (I’m) just trying to give from the experiences that I’ve had. … Obviously I’m still trying to get better myself, so it’s a different mix that we have going on.”
For his part, Ellington has made steady improvement in the starting lineup. Before Kobe Bryant’s season ended with a torn right rotator cuff on Jan. 21, Ellington averaged just 7.4 points in 19.6 minutes. Since then, his scoring has ballooned to 15.4 points in 34.7 minutes.
But the team’s most important goal has sunk during this time, as the Lakers are just 1-7 since Bryant went down.
With Bryant and six-year pro Jordan Hill (hip flexor strain) out due to injuries, the average age of L.A.’s starters is just 24 years old. But head coach Byron Scott insists on continuing to challenge this young crew.
“Our guys are getting baptized by fire,” Scott said. “They’ll learn. They’ll just keep working at it. But I don’t use that youth as an excuse.”
Clarkson, in particular, has been thrown headfirst into the furnace. Since joining the starting lineup eight games ago, the rookie has faced a gauntlet of opposing point guards — including Tony Parker, John Wall, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving — who have a combined 14 all-star appearances between them.
“I want to see how much Jordan Clarkson can continue to develop,” Scott said. “Obviously I wish that Julius Randle was here, because that would have been another one of our key guys throughout this stage. … We’re still in that stage of evaluating our talent and the guys that we have, and just trying to get them better.”
Clarkson isn’t the only young Laker who is getting a shot to prove his potential. In Sunday’s game against Cleveland, for example, players younger than 26 took up 152 of L.A.’s 240 minutes of playing time.
“They're (a) young, still-learning, very inexperienced group,” Scott said. “And I got to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. And in present day, right now, these guys are gaining valuable experience that’s gonna help us in the long run.”