SANTA BARBARA — The personalities seem different between Luke Walton’s laid-back demeanor and Byron Scott’s stern approach. The blaring music symbolized Walton’s want to create a fun training camp atmosphere, while the trash cans placed around the court represented Scott’s belief in accountability for a poorly conditioned player.
Despite those stylistic differences, the current and the former Lakers coach can at least agree on one thing. Both Walton and Scott like backup point guard Marcelo Huertas. Scott often considered Huertas “the Catalyst” last season in the Lakers’ comeback efforts at least to avoid another loss in double-digit margins. Walton pinpointed Huertas as one of the standout players during an evening scrimmage this week.
And the praise all stems from the same thing.
“With Marcelo, it’s like we’re having another coach out there,” Walton said. “He’s constantly helping the other guys where he should be. He understands how to play basketball. He was getting guys wide open shots the entire practice. He was competing on defense. Mainly the way he was running the team’s offense in the scrimmage was very impressive.”
Huertas’ statistics do not seem that impressive. He averaged 4.5 points and 3.4 assists in his first NBA season in 2015-16 after cementing a 14-year career playing professionally in South America and Europe. Huertas also appeared overwhelmed on defense. But the Lakers signed the 33-year-old Huertas to a two-year deal after becoming impressed with his work ethic, passing and insistence on running a balanced offense.
It also became enough for Huertas to be nicknamed “The Catalyst” on social media stemmed from Scott’s praise.
“No problem. You guys can call me whatever you guys want,” Huertas said, laughing. “I don’t have a problem with that.”
The concept seemed foreign, however, for the Brazilian native.
“Here you have a different kind of nickname. Flash or Mamba,” Huertas said, referring to Kobe Bryant’s old nickname. “In Europe and Brazil, this is not normal. People don’t have nicknames like D-Lo.”
Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell has that nickname, though. And as much as the Lakers’ fortunes will rest on both Russell’s growth and leadership presence, Huertas could play a significant part in shaping those skills.
Russell praised Huertas for helping him out on running pick-and-rolls and also providing a needed insurance policy at the backup position. Huertas will share that role this season with 11-year NBA veteran Jose Calderon, who the Lakers acquired in a trade this offseason from Chicago.
“It’s hard for me to say I’m going to tell D’Angelo this or that. Sometimes we’ll see stuff happening in the games or circumstances with the clock or during timeouts,” Huertas said. “As they happen, I’ll say, ‘Let me tell you something afterwards or when we go to the locker room.’ But basketball is not a science. Every circumstance is different.”
But the Lakers have praised Huertas for treating all those unique circumstances with the same attitude toward promoting team play.
“It’s his presence on the pick and rolls, the way he plays with the pace of play and how he’s looking for guys,” Lakers third-year guard Jordan Clarkson said. “He goes in the lane and in the air, pulls the big guy over and finds the next man. All of that stuff goes into my game in terms of making everybody better. Playing alongside him has been great. Chemistry has worked out well. He knows my spots where I like to shoot it.”
Huertas’ charitable mood has played out in different ways. He willingly gave up wearing No. 9 to allow 12-year NBA veteran Luol Deng to wear his old number. Meanwhile, Huertas will wear No. 4 as he did when he played professionally overseas. Huertas also reported working on “every aspect of the game” during both offseason training and when he played for the Brazilian national team in the Rio Olympics.
It does not sound like he has missed a step, however, in his mentorship role and impressing the Lakers’ coaching staff in training camp with his hustle and basketball intelligence. So perhaps “The Catalyst” nickname will stay for another year.
“It’s fun for me. I try to get to know their abilities and know what they like to do and how they like to play,” Huertas said. “I like to manage myself and try to get the ball in the right circumstance every time.”