After missing an opportunity to close out the Warriors, Darvin Ham may now be forced to replace Jarred Vanderbilt as a starter due to his shooting struggles to give the Lakers a better chance to win Game 6 tomorrow night.
While Ham’s been amenable to midstream changes at the back end of his rotation, as evidenced by his promotion of Lonnie Walker IV, changing one of his starters while holding a 3–2 lead in the series would be a surprise. However, a 1-game lead on the defending champs is not what you could call a stranglehold on the series. The Lakers know they’re just a couple of losses to a hot shooting Golden State team away from elimination themselves.
There’s no question Vanderbilt has been struggling. He’s averaging just 3.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 16.6 minutes against the Warriors, down from 7.2 points, 3.8 rebound, and 1.2 assists in 19.8 mpg in Round 1. While he shot a respectable 54.8% from the field and 29.4% from three in Round 1, Vanderbilt’s shot and confidence have abandoned him this series. He’s shooting just 18.2% from the field and 18.2% from the 3-point line.
It was one thing when Vanderbilt could be hidden because Poole was a basket case but now that Jordan’s hitting open shots, Jarred’s become a liability the Warriors are taking advantage of to stifle the Lakers’ offense. It’s hard to win in the playoffs without a good start to the game and the second half and there no doubt that Vanderbilt’s team worst -10.0 net rating for this series has clearly cost the Lakers. Game 6 is the Lakers’ Game 7.
Darvin Ham can’t wait any longer to fix the Lakers’ starting lineup. Here are the three lineup changes he should consider to give the Lakers a better chance at defeating the Warriors and making the conference finals.
1. Dennis Schroder for Jarred Vanderbilt
By the time a series reaches Game 6, winning comes down to execution. If the Lakers want to match up better against the Warriors’ small-ball lineups, Darvin Ham should start Dennis Schroder instead of Jarred Vanderbilt.
Schroder’s 113.0 offensive rating and +9.5 net rating are the best of any Lakers player in this series and his 103.5 defensive rating vs. the Warriors second best on the team. Dennis has been a spark plug at both ends.
He’s averaging 11.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game in 26.8 minutes per game while shooting 47.6% from the field, 33.3% from deep, and 77.8% from the line. His series plus minus of 24.0 is best on the team.
While it’s a small sample size, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder is the Lakers’ second most used 5-player lineup with the team’s third best +4.0 net rating for series. They’ve only logged 18 minutes in the series but they’re one of only three Lakers 5-player lineups with positive net ratings after the loss in Game 5. Suddenly, the stats and analytics are showing a much closer series.
Starting Dennis Schroder for Jarred Vanderbilt is probably Darvin Ham’s best option. Rather than gambling by going big, it makes sense to lean into what’s been one of the Lakers’ best 5-player lineups to start Game 6.
2. Rui Hachimura for Jarred Vanderbilt
Should Lakers’ coach Darvin Ham decide to go big against the small ball Warriors in Game 6, then Rui Hachimura with his size and high percentage post-up shooting would be the logical starter to replace Jarred Vanderbilt.
Hachimura’s 104.3 offensive rating is second worst, his 107.1 defensive rating third best, and his -2.8 net rating 4th best on the team for the series. His elite shooting has been highly underutilized by the Lakers this series. Rui’s averaging just 7.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game in 16.9 minutes per game but shooting 60.9% from the field, 62.5% from deep, and 83.3% from the line. His series plus minus of -2.0 is 8th on the team.
There’s a risk challenging an opponent by going big when they go small or small when they go big. The Lakers would be gambling that Rui’s lethal shooting would be more valuable than his ability to guard smaller players. In many ways, Ham choosing to go big would be doubling-down on the Lakers’ ability to dominate the backboards and win points-in-the-paint and made-free-throws battles while helping reduce their 3-point differential.
Replacing Vanderbilt with Hachimura could be a bold and savvy move for a rookie head coach to make in a series where his team is ahead 3 -2 but in need of a huge win. The Warriors may have no answer for Lakers going big.
3. Lonnie Walker IV for Jarred Vanderbilt
Should Coach Ham want to surprise everybody he could roll the dice on the fearless player who won Game 4 and try to catch lightning-in-a-bottle again by replacing Jarred Vanderbilt with Lakers’ supersub Lonnie Walker IV.
Walker’s 109.6 offensive rating is 3rd best on the Lakers and his 102.1 defensive rating and his +9.5 net rating best of any Lakers player in this series. Per the numbers and the eye test, Lonnie has been playing great.
He’s averaging 10.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 22.9 minutes per game while shooting 55.2% from the field, 30.8% from deep, and 100.0% from the line. His series plus minus of 24.0 is also team best.
As crazy as it may seem, there’s a good argument that Lonnie Walker IV might be exactly what the Lakers need to finish off the Warriors in Game 6. It’s not a fluke that he has the best defensive and net rating on the Lakers. Calling on Walker is not as big a gamble as going big with Hachimura but still riskier than going super small with Dennis Schroder, in whom Darvin has total confidence. Lonnie could be best answer if Dennis is not 100%.
While James, Davis, Russell, Reaves, and Walker have only played a total of 6 minutes together in this series, they posted a 120.0 offensive rating, a 92.9 defensive rating, and a team second best +27.1 net rating for the series.