Who should the Lakers start?
Three lineup options Luke should consider when deciding who should start for the Lakers once everybody’s ready to play
Laker’s head coach Luke Walton has an opportunity to learn from last year’s mistakes and set the stage for this year’s success by making the right decision regarding which players will start once everybody’s healthy and ready to go.
Last year, Luke decided to start Larry Nance, Jr. at power forward rather than Julius Randle, a decision that caused the Lakers’ starting unit to struggle but eventually allowed the second unit to excel with Randle as small ball center. Gambling that Nance would grow into a legitimate NBA starter might have been fine considering where the Lakers were last year but that’s changed now and the Lakers with LeBron have shifted into a ‘grow fast and win now’ mode.
LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, and JaVale McGee are already sure starters, leaving two openings that will likely be filled by two of these five players — Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rando, Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma. While Luke could mix and match point and shooting guards, it makes more sense for him to pair Ball and Hart, who are both on rookie contracts, as one backcourt duo, and Rondo and KCP, who on 1-year deals, as the second duo.
Here are the three options Luke should be considering when deciding who should start for the Lakers once everybody’s healthy and ready to play:
- Lonzo Ball starts at point guard and Josh Hart at shooting guard.
This is hopefully the starting lineup Luke will roll out once Lonzo is ready to go. Ball is clearly the better point guard, Hart the better shooting guard, and Ball and Hart the better backcourt duo offensively and defensively. The Lakers need to win as many games as possible to make the playoffs while accelerating the growth and development of their talented young core, who need to play as many minutes as possible with LeBron James.
- Rajon Rondo starts at point guard and KCP at shooting guard.
The only reason to start this lineup would be if Lonzo or Josh were not physically ready to start the season. Starting Rondo and KCP over Lonzo and Hart would be a mistake similar to Luke starting Nance over Randle. It would be wrongly prioritizing the second unit over the starting unit and would waste valuable court time alongside LeBron James that Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart need if the Lakers are to be a better team by next summer.
- Lonzo Ball starts at point guard and Kyle Kuzma at small forward.
While Luke is not likely to go with this lineup to begin the season, there’s a good chance that we may see it often and that it might be our best lineup. The beauty is it’s basically LeBron James and the four kids who comprise the Lakers’ young core. Playing Ingram alongside Lonzo at shooting guard in place of Hart or KCP could give the Lakers their best potential defensive backcourt while starting Kuzma could turbo charge the Lakers’ offense.
I think it’s important for the Lakers to get off to a fast start and for everybody on the roster to settle into their ideal roles as quickly as possible. The last thing this team needs is a controversy over who should start and close games. Luke’s done a great job being flexible and allowing players who excelled and build good leads to close out games but I think he needs to learn from last year and commit to Lonzo Ball and either Josh Hart or Kyle Kuzma to start.
Luke’s first and most important decision should be to start Lonzo Ball, who showed in the last two preseason games that he was healthy and ready to go. Lonzo’s clearly the better point guard and defender at this point in his career. Luke’s second decision in my opinion is whether to start Josh Hart at shooting guard or move Brandon Ingram there and start Kyle Kuzma at small forward. Fortunately, that’s a decision that Luke could make further down the road.
How Luke handles the challenge of setting his starting lineup and rotations is going to be a critical component upon which the team’s success will depend. Hopefully, Luke will show that he’s grown and is now up to that challenge.