How Marc Gasol and Dennis Schroder Will Transform Lakers Starting Lineup
Championship teams commonly make personnel changes to upgrade their roster but the Los Angeles Lakers added two new players to their starting lineup who will dramatically change their style of play for the next season.
What’s more startling is how the changes will impact Lakers’ superstars James and Davis, with point guard Dennis Schroder taking the ball out of LeBron’s hands and stretch center Marc Gasol creating spacing for AD. Defending NBA champions rarely risk major changes in how they or their superstars play but the Lakers are rolling the dice and counting on Schroder and Gasol to transform how the team takes advantage of James and Davis.
So why would the Lakers make such drastic changes after winning the title? The answer is a combination of wanting to repeat as champions and protect and preserve the health and longevity of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Specifically, the Lakers believe they will be a better team and have a longer championship window if they make the game easier for their superstars by not having LeBron have to play the point and by spreading the floor for AD.
That’s why Rob Pelinka’s first offseason move was to trade for OKC Thunder point guard Dennis Schroder. The Lakers saw how Rajon Rondo made the Lakers better and the game easier for LeBron James in their playoff run. With LeBron now locked under contract for the next three years, the Lakers want to do everything they can to alleviate the workload James has to carry during the regular season to keep him fresh and healthy for the playoffs.
Replacing 34-year old Rajon Rondo with 27-year old Dennis Schroder gives the Lakers a key player whose age and championship window perfectly align with 27-year old superstar Anthony Davis, who signed a 5-year extension. While not as elite a playmaker as Rondo, Schroder is a major upgrade offensively, giving the Lakers a sorely needed third scorer and elite 3-point threat as he averaged 18.9 points per game and shot 38.5% from deep.
Besides reducing LeBron’s ball handling and scoring workload, Dennis should also give the Lakers’ starting lineup another bulldog defender who can fight through screens and relentlessly hound opposing point guards. Schroder will also allow James to focus more on the defensive side of the ball, where he remains one of the best individual and team defenders in the NBA, especially against elite bigger wing scorers like Kawhi and Giannis.
While it may seem counterintuitive to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands, the Lakers want to keep James fresh and healthy for this and future seasons and empower him to pick and choose when and where to take over games. That’s why the Lakers traded for Dennis Schroder, an elite point guard who could free LeBron James from the primary ball handling and scoring duties and optimize and extend his career and championship opportunities.
The second major offseason change the Lakers made to their starting lineup was to replace their former starting traditional center tandem of McGee and Howard with 35-year old veteran playmaking stretch five center Marc Gasol. Once again, the Lakers made a dramatic decision to change how they play because of what they learned in the playoffs, as Markieff Morris’ elite play as a stretch four/five created optimal spacing for James and Davis to dominate.
Trading two defensive stalwarts like JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard for two offensive oriented centers like Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell again seemed counterintuitive, especially for a team whose identity was defense. While McGee and Howard had become unplayable due to matchups in the playoffs, the Lakers’ decision not to bring back either of them was a surprise because coach Vogel has always made protecting the rim his top priority.
Give Rob Pelinka, Frank Vogel, and the Lakers’ front office and coaching staff kudos for accepting their closing lineup with AD as a modern center had performed better than any of their starting lineups with a traditional center. Since they wanted to preserve and protect Davis by limiting his minutes at center, the Lakers decided to replace their starting traditional center with a modern offensive center who was an elite shooter and passer like Gasol.
While he’s no longer an elite shot blocker like McGee or Howard, Marc Gasol is still a former DPOY and elite positional defender with a high BBIQ who’s also still one of the premier passing and shooting centers in the entire league. Marc’s presence at center in the starting lineup will enable the Lakers to play the same five-out sets their closing lineups with Davis played that spread defenses and opened up lanes for LeBron and other Lakers to attack the rim.
The additions of Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol showed the Lakers’ front office and coaching staff were willing to make major changes not only to upgrade the defending champions’ roster but to change how the team plays. Making bold moves that dramatically affect how the team’s superstars will play is an indication of a confident franchise that’s not afraid to go all-in and make changes to improve what was already the best team in the league.
While last year’s starting lineup lacked a true point guard and modern center, the Lakers still dominated in the playoffs and won their 17th championship despite not having home court advantage or the support of hometown fans. Armed with a dynamic young point guard in Dennis Schroder and a savvy modern stretch center in Marc Gasol, the Lakers should be even better this season and odds on favorites to win their 18th NBA championship.
The true test will be whether the moves designed to upgrade the Lakers’ surrounding cast to unleash the powers of LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be able to win in what’s looks to be another Covid-19 dominated season. We know the Lakers as an organization run every major decision by LeBron James and Anthony Davis so we have to believe the two superstars were on board with the moves and ready to embrace the team’s new direction.
While their starting lineup this season is likely to look a lot more like the rest of the league with a true point guard and modern center, the Lakers are likely to continue to be bigger, deeper, and better than the rest of the NBA teams.
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