The Lakers’ Pace and Space Challenge!

How head coach Frank Vogel can find the right mix of pace-and-space for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win a Lakers’ championship

Head coach Frank Vogel finding the right pace to play and the right mix of shooters to space the floor to optimize LeBron James and Anthony Davis could be the key to the Los Angeles Lakers winning an NBA championship.

The challenge facing Frank Vogel and the Lakers is figuring out how to win in a guard driven pace-and-space league. While the NBA has become a league dominated by elite backcourts pushing the pace in transition for wide-open layups and threes and spreading the floor in half court with three-point shooters to create space for drive-and-dish and drive-and-kick action in the paint, the Lakers have built a front court dominated roster.

While a LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins front court could give the Lakers a huge matchup advantage, it could also make them vulnerable against smaller backcourt dominated teams who push the pace in transition. Going big also limits the number of willing and capable three-point shooters they can deploy to create space to free up LeBron James and Anthony Davis, allowing opponents to clog up the paint against them.

So what can coach Vogel and his staff do to counter the pace-and-space challenges facing the Lakers? The key is to make smart adjustments but still play the modern pace-and-space game. That means finding lineups and schemes to push the ball in transition while not running your front court veterans into the ground and getting playing time for your best three-point shooters despite their playmaking and defensive shortcomings.

The first big decision Frank Vogel needs to make is how fast does he want the Lakers to play this season. With Lonzo Ball and most of the team’s young players now replaced by older veterans, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Lakers should slow the game down to take better advantage of their front court strength, keep their players fresher, and limit the wear and tear and risk of injury to players like LeBron and Boogie.

Last season under Luke Walton, the Lakers played at the fourth fastest pace in the league and the fastest in LeBron James’ career. Last year also marked the very first time LeBron suffered a major injury, missing 27 games due to a groin injury on Christmas day versus Golden State. Then there’s the issue of a recovering DeMarcus Cousins, who suffered a torn Achilles two years ago playing on a New Orleans team that ranked first overall in pace.

Finally, the pace of play has in the league has dramatically increased for every team due to the rule change resetting the shot clock to 14 seconds after offensive rebounds. The Pelicans team that ranked first in the league in pace two years ago would only have ranked twelfth in pace this last season. There’s no proof that a faster pace is causing more injuries but it probably makes common sense for the Lakers to play at a slower pace.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers shouldn’t push the pace when they have the opportunity because easy layups, dunks, and wide open threes before teams set up in their half court defenses have great value. It just means the Lakers need to be judicious and efficient in deciding when to run. The key is to be constantly pressuring opposing defenses in transition without wasting possessions and opportunities by turning over the ball.

Unlike last season, the Lakers have done an excellent job this season adding quality three-point shooters with the gravity to create optimal spacing for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to do their thing without being doubled. The challenge facing head coach Frank Vogel is fielding quality lineups and schemes where he can surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with at least three willing and able three-point shooters on the floor at all times.

With LeBron James starting at small forward, Anthony Davis at power forward, and Danny Green at shooting guard, Frank Vogel will have to carefully manage his rotations to ensure he has three quality three-point shooters on the floor with LeBron and AD. That means he probably needs to start a point guard and center whose three-point shooting teams will respect to go with Danny Green, who’s the team’s best long range shooter.

The decision whom to start alongside Danny Green is a tough one because the Lakers don’t have a true point guard other than 33-year old Rajon Rondo, whose defense is nonexistent, and 25-year old inexperienced Alex Caruso. Since LeBron is their main playmaker, the Lakers really just need a guard who can shoot the three, bring the ball up, and defend his position. The player that best fits that role could be 28-year old guard Avery Bradley.

Bradley was an NBA All-Defensive 1st Team selection as a Celtic in 2016 but spent the last three injury plagued years playing for three different teams. While he’s shot the ball well from deep, he’s struggled on defense. Finally healthy and a proven 40% three-point shooter when open, Avery could be the perfect fit to start at the point alongside Green, giving the Lakers a backcourt duo that are elite defenders and three-point shooters.

Besides Green and Bradley, the Lakers still need a third three-point shooter with the gravity to create spacing for LeBron and AD. Before he tore his Achilles in January 2018, DeMarcus Cousins was on pace to become the first center in NBA history to attempt over 500 and make over 170 three-point shots, a record that Brook Lopez finally broke last season. Boogie as a stretch five is the key to the Lakers solving their spacing problems.

A starting lineup of Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins would give the Lakers the perfect fivesome to play modern pace-and-space basketball. They would have five players each of whom would have the ability to grab a rebound and start a fast break. They would have strong perimeter and interior defense and five players who could break down defenders and attack the rim or shoot the three.

Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel would also have a deep and diverse bench that he could utilize to matchup against different opposing lineups, including a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate and premier scorer in Kyle Kuzma, a proven top tire rim protector in JaVale McGee, an elite backup ball handler and playmaker in Rajon Rondo, and a trio of elite three-point shooters like Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, and Jared Dudley.

The Lakers will need good fortune and health, strong comeback years from Bradley and Cousins, and a great job managing substitutions and rotations from head coach Frank Vogel but the potential is there for the Lakers to win an NBA championship playing great pace-and-space basketball.

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