Heading into the regular season home stretch, the Los Angeles Lakers have added one new player in power forward Markieff Morris and waived Troy Daniels to make room for a second new player in Dion Waiters or JR Smith.
The question Lakers’ fans and pundits are wondering is how the addition of two new players who are likely to play significantly more minutes than the players they replaced is going to affect head coach Frank Vogel’s rotations. The predominate hope is the minutes Morris and Waiters or Smith receive will end up coming from point guard Rajon Rondo while the bated fear is those minutes might come at the expense of fan favorite Alex Caruso.
With the Lakers more likely to tighten rather than expand rotations, head coach Frank Vogel is facing a major challenge deciding where to get the extra minutes needed for Morris and Waiters or Smith to help the Lakers. After all, Morris is replacing a player in DeMarcus Cousins who didn’t play at due to injury while Waiters or Smith would be replacing a player in Troy Daniels who averaged 7.9 minutes per game and played in just 28 games.
Position plays a role in the decision. As a power forward/small ball center, Markieff Morris will be primarily be competing for minutes with Lakers’ front court players like Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard. Since Dion Waiters or JR Smith are shooting guards, they would likely be competing for minutes with Lakers’ back court players like Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso.
So let’s start by taking a look at how many minutes Frank Vogel has played different players over the last ten games. Frank’s basically used a rotation where eleven different players averaged at least fifteen minutes per game:
Please note the 262.8 total of the average minutes played by the eleven rotation players plus Troy Daniels actually exceeded the 240 minutes in a regular NBA game. This is because every player didn’t play all ten games.
Of course, it’s unlikely that Vogel is going to play a twelve-man roster, especially in the playoffs. Realistically, most championship teams narrow their rotation to seven to nine players by the time they get into the playoffs. It’s difficult for players to get in sync and rhythm and lineups to develop synergy and chemistry when teams play more than nine players in a game because of the limited minutes and playing time on the court together.
Vogel is also likely to want LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the floor more down the stretch and during the playoffs, which reduces available minutes and adds more pressure to reduce the number of rotations players. Then there’s the question of how many minutes Anthony Davis will play at center when the Lakers opt or are forced to go small. It’s entirely possible that JaVale McGee might see his center minutes limited or eliminated.
There are obviously exceptions when players get injured or in foul trouble but coaches usually settle on a seven to nine player rotation by the time they get into the regular season stretch run to get ready for the playoffs. Chances are head coach Frank Vogel is going to want to do the same with the Lakers’ roster. So let’s take a look at what a nine-man roster might look like after the Lakers replace Troy Daniels with Dion Waiters or JR Smith:
This is just one example of a nine-man rotation the Lakers might deploy which basically eliminates three players — JaVale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, and Rajon Rondo — and narrows the rotation from twelve to nine players. While this might seem like a drastic move, it’s also a recognition of which nine players are likely to be the most consistent performers whom can be counted upon and make up the best lineups to win games in the playoffs.
Of course, Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters or JR Smith will to prove they are worthy of replacing Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo in the rotation, that they’re able to provide the consistency that Kuzma and Rondo have not. Frankly, Kuzma’s and Rondo’s inconsistency and inability to be the second scorer and playmaker the Lakers needed off the bench was the reason the Lakers pursued Morris and Waiters or Smith in the buyout market.
A revamped starting lineup of Bradley, Green, James, Davis, and Howard or Bradley, Green, James, Morris, and Davis could be ideal for the playoffs. Or maybe Kuzma picks up his game and replaces Morris in the rotation. Maybe Vogel decides to gamble and keep Rondo in the rotation in hopes of him transforming into Playoff Rondo. While I do think all three will be given an opportunity to stay in the rotation, they’ll still have to earn it.
What’s clear is somebody’s going to lose out in the game of musical chairs that the Lakers’ additions of Markieff Morris and one of Dion Waiters or JR Smith will inevitably create as the Lakers gear up for the NBA playoffs. There are just too many players who can contribute and too few minutes and roles to keep everybody happy. The time has come for Frank Vogel to make some decision regarding who’s going to be in the Lakers’ rotations.
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