Miles Simon just completed his first season as an assistant coach for the Lakers, and he used one word to describe the experience.
“Tremendous,” he said Monday in Tucson. “A great learning experience.”
Simon is one of four Arizona Wildcats on L.A.’s coaching staff. Luke Walton is the head coach, while Jud Buechler and Jesse Mermuys (a former UA staffer) are also assistants.
They led the Lakers to their best season in five years, going 35-47 in 2017-18, a nine-win increase from the year before.
“Working for Luke is unbelievable,” Simon said. “What a basketball mind he is.”
One reason for the Lakers’ improved play was their rookie class, which was arguably the best in the NBA.
No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball was the headliner, but they also got surprisingly good contributions from late-first-rounders Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
Kuzma, a former Utah standout, was one of three Lakers to average 16.1 points per game, Hart averaged 7.9 points with great efficiency, and Ball was tremendous in every facet of the game but shooting, averaging 10.2 points, 7.2 assists, and 6.9 rebounds.
Simon’s role is player development, so he had a big hand in their success, especially Ball and Kuzma.
Simon works with them before every game, and has been honing their scoring and ball-handling skills.
Here is an example. Hook shots started to become a go-to move for Kuzma down the final stretch of the regular season, which he perfected with Simon’s help.
Meanwhile, Ball struggled mightily with his shooting at the start of the season, but continually improved as the year went by.
He upped his 3-point percentage to 31 by season’s end, which is a respectable mark for a rookie.
“The thing with Lonzo, he’s put in the work and put in the time,” Simon told Lakers.com’s Joey Ramirez back in March. “It was a little bit of an adjustment period in the first couple months of the season, making the three-point shots.
“But now he’s so comfortable at the line, he’s coming early, he’s staying late, getting the extra reps in, and his confidence is soaring. Once he got comfortable in the practice setting, seeing the shots go in, it’s translated to the game and obviously he’s been one of our best three-point shooters over the last couple months.”
Miles Simon on his first year with the Lakers’ coaching staff: “Tremendous. Working for Luke (Walton) was unbelievable. What a great basketball mind he is.” pic.twitter.com/zVVfRoz6mL— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) April 17, 2018
The Lakers also have second-year forward Brandon Ingram, another former No. 2 overall pick, and Julius Randle on their roster, and both had career years.
“We have a great young team to work with and Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball were all so fun to be around,” Simon said. “Best experience I could ask for.”
And not only does being with Lakers mean Simon gets to work with several fellow Wildcats, but also his favorite basketball player of all-time, too.
“I was a Lakers fan growing up since I’ve been 8,9 years old,” Simon said. “My boss is literally my idol, Magic Johnson. So it was a tremendous experience.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire