Lakers’ Starting Lineups and Depth Chart Slowly Starting to Crystallize
While it’s still early and we haven’t even seen some players play yet, we’re starting to see enough to make a reasonable projection how the Lakers’ starting lineup and depth chart will look come December and January.
While integrating superstars LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook has been challenging, the Lakers still appear to be committed to playing all three of their superstars to both start and close games and halves. While Frank Vogel hedges his comments by saying there will be times when the Lakers will play two bigs, he also appears firmly committed to Anthony Davis starting and closing games and playing major minutes at center.
So let’s take a look at the Lakers’ roster to see who are the favorites to start and the likely candidates to backup the starters when everybody is healthy in December and January heading towards the February 10th trade deadline.
Lakers’ Projected STARTING LINEUP Once Everybody Is Available
With Russell Westbrook at the one, LeBron James at the four, and Anthony Davis at the five locked in to start and finish games and halves, the Lakers’ starters at the two and three will need to provide key spacing and defense.
While Avery Bradley has been starting at shooting guard, it’s unlikely he will be able to hold onto the starting job once everybody is healthy. Like Kent Bazemore, Avery’s future is likely to be a defensive specialist off the bench. That leaves Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Austin Reaves as the remaining candidates to start at shooting guard. Reaves is a rookie and Nunn hasn’t even played yet and is best fit to backup Westbrook.
That leaves Ellington and Monk as the remaining two top candidates to start. Ellington is kind of the favorite and has slowly been shooting like his resume while Monk is the more versatile option as an uncanny three-level scorer. What will separate the two in coach Vogel’s mind is defense. Monk’s 99.3 defensive rating is the best for any Lakers player who has played in six or more games compared to Ellington’s 8th ranked 107.5 defensive rating.
Talen Horton-Tucker has been starting at small forward and will likely be given the opportunity to retain that role going forward because, while he is only 6' 4,” he has a 7' 1" wingspan and physical strength to play the three. Horton-Tucker’s biggest issue starting alongside James, Davis, and Westbrook is his ability to space the floor with 3-point shooting. The Lakers are giving THT a chance before the trade deadline to prove he can start.
Come December and January, I would not be surprised to see the Lakers’ fivesome that starts and closes games and halves to be Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis.
Lakers’ Projected DEPTH CHART Once Everybody Is Available
Just as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook were locks for the starting lineup, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are sure to be the primary backups for LeBron James at the four and Anthony Davis at the five.
Who will be the primary backups for the one, two, and three is less certain. Rondo’s recent excellent play has reinserted him into the competition with younger Kendrick Nunn to be Westbrook’s primary backup at point guard. While Nunn will get most of the backup minutes at the one, Vogel’s will also give Rajon enough spot minutes to keep him involved and ready to turn into Playoff Rondo once the Lakers finish the season and get into the playoffs.
Assuming Malik Monk starts at the two, Wayne Ellington should beat Avery Bradley out for the primary backup at shooting guard. Vogel still likes Bradley so he’ll get spot minutes as as on-ball defender and spot up shooter. Since Ariza has only played the four the last four seasons and doesn’t have the footspeed to play the three, the Lakers’ backups for the undersized Horton-Tucker at the three will fall to the more undersized Bazemore or Reaves.
Frankly, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kent Bazemore, and Austin Reaves are really shooting guards masquerading as small forwards. The Lakers have a serious shortage of bigger (6' 6" to 6' 8") 3&D wings that needs to be addressed. Expect the Lakers to keep a close eye on the emerging trade market as the ‘No Trade’ restrictions for Kendrick Nunn ($5M/Year) expire on December 15, 2022 and for Talen Horton-Tucker ($15M/Year) on January 15, 2022.
The Lakers are going to have to make a trade for a bigger 3&D wing like Jerami Grant or Cam Reddish to fix their roster imbalance. The problem is their only major trading chips are Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn. Players like Monk or Ellington, while not making large salaries, still have value for teams needing shooting. The Lakers also don’t have Nunn’s or Monk’s Bird rights, so trading them for the right player could be appealing.
In the end, the Lakers have a serious roster imbalance that will require a major trade at the deadline to fix. Fortunately, the Lakers do have some valuable trading chips to swap to get the bigger 3&D wing they need.
Right now, the Lakers are struggling because of injuries and because the trade for Russell Westbrook has caused them to undergo what is the equivalent of a metamorphosis from a traditional two-big team to one-big small ball team. Transforming the team to playing small ball with AD at the five for the entire regular season was hard enough without integrating eleven new players. The injuries to James, Davis, Ariza, Nunn, Ellington, and THT have not helped.
Considering the challenge, the Lakers could easily have a worse record than 8–7. The team just needs to get healthy. With LeBron slated to return Friday against the Celtics and Ariza soon to practice, the Lakers will be fine.
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