While training camp and preseason can always lead to surprises, a careful review of the moves the Lakers have made and the roster they have built reveals clues to which players are likely to start and be part of the rotation.
To start with, the Lakers now have a legitimate superstar big three with Russell Westbrook joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis. So let’s begin by pencilling in all three of the Lakers’ superstars to open and close halves. The question is how will the Lakers fill the other two starting spots? Will they start and close with two elite 3-point shooters like Nunn and Ellington or a traditional low post center like Howard or Jordan and just one shooter?
Once the starting lineup is fixed, the Lakers need to figure out what their rotations will be. One key rotation will be putting together a linup that can win the twelve to fourteen minutes per game LeBron is not on the court. During the two years James has played for the Lakers, they have never had a positive plus/minus when LeBron was off the court. Finding a winning rotation powered by Davis and Russell should be the top rotation priority.
Here are four lineups Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel should include in his rotations: Lakers’ Starting Lineup, LeBron at the Five Lineup, LeBron on the Bench Lineup, and Switch Everything Lineup for closing out games.
1. LAKERS’ STARTING LINEUP
Creating a starting lineup for the Lakers begins with deciding who starts at center: Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, or DeAndre Jordan? The small ball linup that won you a championship or the McGee minutes eating plan?
When you review the Lakers options at starting center, it’s obvious Anthony Davis is a more attractive option than the older Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan, who are no longer in their prime as shot blockers and/or dunkers. While AD prefers to play the five instead of four, he agreed to spend more time at the five in the regular season if Russ played the one so the Lakers could include two elite volume 3-point shooters in their starting lineup.
Pelinka did a great job making the Westbrook trade viable by adding six proven 3-point shooters to the roster: sharpshooters like Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore, and Carmelo Anthony. Picking the best two high volume, high percentage 3-point shooters on the Lakers is easy. It’s Wayne Ellington, who averaged 6.0 threes per game at 42.2% and Kendrick Nunn, who averaged 5.7 threes per game at 38.1%.
The above starting lineup is basically this season’s version of the small ball lineup with AD at center the Lakers used to win the 2020 championship. Three superstars and two high volume, high percentage 3-point shooters.
2. LEBRON AT THE FIVE LINEUP
One of the lineups we’re going to see a lot this season is a small ball lineup with LeBron James at center, Rajon Rondo at point guard, plus three high volume, high percentage 3-point shooters to create spacing.
That’s right: LeBron James at the five. We saw glimpses of this last year in the playoffs and this year in the regular season, when the Lakers posted up LeBron, who destroyed whichever player had to guard him in the post. Whether defended by a big or a wing, LeBron has the power moves and bully ball mentality to destroy defenses and either score the ball or find a wide open 3-point shooter or cutter slashing towards the rim.
The LeBron at the five lineup opens the door for the Lakers to give minutes to other 3-point shooters Pelinka signed like Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk and invaluable players like Rajon Rondo and Talen Horton-Tucker. This is a lineup that should allow LeBron to shine as both a scorer and playmaker. Rondo is a genius at getting the ball to LeBron in the places where he is essentially unstoppable. This lineup will unleash LeBron.
Teams easily forget that the Lakers have two superstars who are capable of playing multiple positions including small ball center. The LeBron at the five lineup will be the Lakers surprise for teams who want make them play small.
3. LEBRON ON THE BENCH LINEUP
The Lakers’ Achilles Heel the last two seasons has been the minutes when LeBron James was on the bench. One of Vogel’s top priorities is to create a LeBron on the bench lineup that can win the minutes when James rests.
Building that lineup has to start with Westbrook and Davis, the Lakers’ other two superstars. Include the team’s best 3-point shooters in Ellington and Nunn and add Howard for defense and rebounding to create a dope lineup. Last season, the Lakers were a +12.8 points with LeBron on the floor and a -1.2 points with him off the floor. Even during the championship run, the Lakers were unable to generate a postive net rating without LeBron.
Thus, the LeBron on the bench lineup has the most potential of any of the Lakers’ lineups to make a dramatic turn around to become a positive rather than a negative factor when it comes to winning the non-LeBron minutes. Crafting a lineup with superstars in Russ and AD, elite 3-point shooters in Ellington and Nunn, and a proven shot blocker, rim protector, and rebounder like Howard gives the Lakers a powerhouse non-LeBron lineup.
Turning the Lakers biggest negative lineup into one of its best could be a difference-maker in the Lakers quest for their 18th championship. It’s also one of the massive benefits of having three rather than two superstars.
4. SWITCH EVERYTHING LINEUP
The key to creating a lineup to close games is defense. James, Davis, and Westbrook are all plus defenders. To create the best closing lineup, all we need to do is add our best two perimeter defenders.
The best two perimeter defenders on the Lakers are Kent Bazemore and Trevor Ariza, both of whom are proven 3&D players who can shoot the three and play elite defense against other teams’ best guards or wings. Most importantly, this would give the Lakers a lineup of players with the talent and versatility to defend multiple positions and switch everything, which is the strategy the Lakers should deploy to close out halves and games.
Switching everything requires players with elite individual ability and tough mentality to switch on all screens. It’s a tactic that makes consummate sense considering how efficient and deadly offensive players are in today’s game. With an AD and LeBron front court, a point guard in Russ who can defend bigs, and two elite veteran perimeter defenders in Bazemore and Ariza, the Lakers can roll out a closing lineup as lethal as the Warriors Death Lineup.
The Lakers know that defense wins championships. While most expect the Lakers to make a huge leap offenseively, there’s a good chance they might be able to do the same defensively with Anthony Davis now playing the five.
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