Crazy as it may seem, there are signs Frank Vogel may actually decide to go with a 12-player rotation for the playoffs that will include four different players getting minutes at the center position depending on matchups.
While most teams narrow their playoff rotations to just 8 or 9 players, the Lakers appear to be poised to do the exact opposite to take advantage of the great depth and versatility of their roster by actively including 12 players. The reasons Vogel might decide to take this approach include wanting to keep everybody on the team engaged and ready to contribute, maintain maximum matchup flexibility, and keep his future rotation options open.
While going with a 12-man rotation may seem extreme, the uncertainty about whom to play is really limited to just the center position, where the recent signing of Andre Drummond has created a severe minutes crunch. Vogel firmly believes the Lakers are going to need Drummond, Harrell, and Gasol well as Anthony Davis at the five during these playoffs. The challenge is fitting four players who averaged 80 minutes per game into 48 minutes.
The solution is likely narrowing the 12-man rotation for each playoff series based on the matchups. While Davis will close games at the five, who plays center for the first three and half quarters will depend on the matchups.
THE CORE 12-MAN ROTATION
Here’s a chart showing the Lakers core 12-man rotation with Gasol starting and Davis closing halves and each of the Lakers’ centers playing 12 minutes per game although the actual minutes distribution would vary each series.
For example, the Lakers best center rotation option to defend against the Nuggets’ stretch fives Jokic and Green is going to be different than the rotation versus the Jazz’s traditional low post centers Gobert and Favors. Frank Vogel might opt to use Drummond’s and Harrell’s mobility to defend the Nuggets’ stretch fives Jokic and Green but play the Lakers’ stretch fives Gasol and Davis to pull the Jazz’s Gobert and Favors out of the paint.
It’s even possible Vogel might opt to play all four centers in the first game of each series to see who matches up best against the opposing team’s centers and then adjusting who plays center the rest of the series on the matchups. This would give each center an opportunity to show the coaching staff he deserved to play the rest of the series. It’s almost the same blueprint Frank used during last year’s playoffs, although with am extremely short leash.
Now that LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both back on the court, the Lakers need to figure out whether Andre Drummond is a good fit alongside LeBron and Ad and whether he can be the starting center in the playoffs.
THE BEST 9-MAN ROTATION
Here’s a chart showing the Lakers core 9-man rotation with Gasol starting and Davis closing halves at center, Drummond covering the remaining minutes, and Horton-Tucker, Morris, and Harrell being out of the rotation.
With the 9-man rotation, the Lakers should still start each half with Marc Gasol and close each half with Anthony Davis at the 5 to stretch defenses, make it harder to double, and open up lanes for LeBron and AD to attack. Drummond is a better center option off the bench than Harrell because he offers more rim protection, scoring, and rebounding though Vogel will likely start Drummond and play Gasol in the middle of the half.
Narrowing the rest of the rotation is fairly easy. Caruso takes over Horton-Tucker’s minutes because his defense and 3-point shooting is better while Kuzma takes over Morris’ minutes because of his versatility and shooting. There could be matchups where Horton-Tucker’s ability to get to the rim and make plays for teammates become more important. There could also be matchups where Morris’ bulk and low post defense trump Kuzma’s skillset.
The above 9-man rotation makes it easy for the Lakers to make adjustments based on specific matchups in each playoff series or on how specific players are performing. The rotation is just a starting template for who plays when.
Right now, Vogel has to stop the incessant experimenting. There is nothing that can be gained from that at this point. The only viable route forward is to decide who’s going to play and then give them the opportunity to develop. Narrowing the rotation down to 9 players would at least provide the Lakers with a needed opportunity to get some game and practice time in and hopefully create some cohesion and chemistry before the playoffs start.
At this point, it doesn’t matter where the Lakers end up as far as seeding goes, even if that means having to win in the Play-In Tournament. All that matters is LeBron and AD being healthy and deciding upon a rotation. Injuries to superstars, questionable personnel moves in the offseason, an ill-advised refusal to trade for Kyle Lowry at the deadline, and coaching indecisiveness have made repeating as champions an improbable long shot.
The best the Lakers can hope for is LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting their games together once we get into the playoffs and a narrowed rotation stepping up and pulling off a miraculous finish to win the championship.
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