Lakers

How soon is too soon for Frank Vogel to make some tweaks?

After All-Star Lakers big man Anthony Davis expressed an interest in starting at center during the run-up to the 2021-22 regular season, the Lakers predictably scrapped that concept and allowed AD to jump at the four, alongside token starting center DeAndre Jordan, who is easily the third-best center on the roster behind Davis and Dwight Howard.

The absolute biggest issue is the current starting lineup, so let's talk about that first.

The current starters for the Lakers -- Russell Westbrook at the point, Kent Bazemore as the shooting guard, LeBron James as the small forward, Davis playing power forward, and Jordan at center -- have been marginally effective from a net rating perspective, sure. But anyone's going to look good playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Bazemore makes sense as a nice two-way fit, and Westbrook is making too much money to be a sixth man. But DeAndre Jordan has got to go.

Obviously we currently have a tiny 96-minute sample size for all of these lineups. The starters are the most utilized, per NBA.com, at 21 minutes total together. With two lane-clogging non-shooters in Westbrook and Jordan, it's a surprise to this writer that they even have a positive net rating so far, at +4.1. 

Jordan is a massive minus on both sides of the ball at this point, the Lakers need to minimize his minutes beyond his current output. There's a reason he barely played in the postseason for the Nets last year. Unfortunately, that means leaning on Dwight Howard, not exactly Anthony Davis's favorite colleague these days. If Anthony Davis is unwilling to start when matched up against... Kevon Looney, then that might even require Dwight to leapfrog Jordan as the starting center. The Lakers' most intriguing lineups, to this writer anyway, involve separating James and Westbrook and surrounding them with shooting.

As far as a new starting lineup goes, it's time to bench Jordan in favor of Howard. Westbrook and James should have their minutes more staggered, but you don't want to move your $44.2 million man to the bench. For now, a lineup of Westbrook, Bazemore, James, Davis and Howard makes sense.

The Lakers are missing four rotation players in combo guard Kendrick Nunn, swingmen Wayne Ellington and Talen Horton-Tucker, and forward Trevor Ariza. 

The Lakers' deficit at the wing is glaring, as the team's second-most-used lineup (albeit in just eight minutes across two games) comprises Westbrook, scrap-heap pick-up Avery Bradley at the two, Bazemore at small forward, James at power forward, and Davis at his more natural position, the five. Because the Lakers have so few healthy wing defenders (Ellington is sorely missed in this regard, and Horton-Tucker has the tools to be one of the club's better defensive guards but hasn't proven capable of that yet), Bradley has becoming weirdly important for the Lakers. The 30-year-old vet, still a good-if-undersized wing defender at 6'3", used to be a valuable two-way player, and is connecting on 40% of his 2.5 triples a night through two contests to his credit. That said, he struggled to carve out rotational minutes through multiple injuries during stints with the Heat and Rockets last season. He shot just 32.7% from three-point range and an awful 37.4% from the field. 

Insanely, Frank Vogel has busted out several lineups where Westbrook and reserve guard Rajon Rondo have shared the floor together (in 14 minutes across two games!). Though he's a mediocre three-point shooter (mostly because he gets wide-open looks), Rondo is way too Westbrook-ian for this to ever happen. The Lakers need to cut this out posthaste.

Here are three lineups worthy of more shine in the short-term. You will notice that DeAndre Jordan is in none of them, nor is a James/Westbrook tandem:

Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard

LeBron + shooting, with some back-end protection, is always a good idea.

LeBron functions as the primary ball-handler and de facto point forward in this line-up, surrounded by three shooters and one excellent rim-running center in Howard to protect the paint, who remains impressively athletic. Monk, a 6'3" shooting guard, and Anthony are subpar defenders, the 6'4" Bazemore and of course LeBron are solid two-way contributors. This lineup has barely been tried so far, possibly because of Monk and Anthony both being defensive liabilities.

Monk, Bazemore, and Anthony all connected on at least 40% of their three-point looks last year, an elite mark. LeBron surrounded by shooters and a high-level rim-runner makes a lot of sense as a lineup that can be a two-way threat.

When everyone is healthy, Monk could be swapped for Wayne Ellington (a 42.2% three-point shooter on 6.0 looks last year), and/or Trevor Ariza (a 35% three-point shooter on 4.8 attempts with the Heat in 2020-21) could replace Anthony and be reasonably expected to replicate a decent percentage of his offense while improving the defense at power forward.

This lineup has appeared for less than a minute together so far, but its net rating is an astronomical (and fairly meaningless) +200. I just think it'd be nice to see it get some extended run.

Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Davis

Russell Westbrook makes the most sense on this Lakers team as a LeBron substitute. Westbrook thrives with the ball in his hands, and has never been much of an off-ball cutter. It's important to take a look at a relatively athletic Russ + shooting lineup (i.e. no Rondo).

When Trevor Ariza recovers, he could be a nice fit at the four in this lineup, with Bazemore being moved down to small forward and Monk being benched. For now, Bradley is unfortunately a pretty important kinda-two-way contributor. It's hard to trust his shooting after his terrible performance last season, but a line-up with

This is fairly undersized lineup also boasts a crazy-great net rating (+150), but one that has also not appeared in meaningful minutes together (less than one). Again, on-paper, it makes sense to surround Westbrook with as many shooters as possible, plus a center in Davis who's comfortable enough with his jumper to leave the lane open for Russ a bit. Bradley, Bazemore and Davis are also all good, switchable defenders who can help spell the deficiencies of Monk and Westbrook on that end.

Rajon Rondo, Austin Reaves, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis

When Kendrick Nunn, THT or Wayne Ellington return, any of those players could slotted in to the Reaves spot here. Ellington would be the safest two-way bet. Another riff on this would be to eliminate Anthony and just add Ellington.

Even though he's just 6'5", the rookie Reaves is one of the Lakers' taller wings (the 6'8" Ariza and Melo have primarily been utilized as power forwards in recent seasons). "Hillbilly Kobe" has flashed plenty of promise as a second playmaker and interesting pick-and-roll cog. He was a 34.7% three-point shooter in college (at Wichita State and Oklahoma), and it remains to be seen if he can produce as a shooter at the next level.

Rondo is an awesome passer and passable defender who can connect from deep when he's left wide open. He has connected on 35.9% or better from deep in four of the last six seasons. Rondo just knows how to operate effectively alongside his old teammates, and Davis returns to his natural position at the five. This lineup hasn't even played together, but could be fun to explore.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nba/lakers-news-time-to-make-lineup-changes/ar-AAPSzOs

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