Whom Should the Los Angeles Lakers Start Alongside Superstar Big Three?
As the Los Angeles Lakers prepare for the 2021–22 season opener against the Golden State Warriors in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, the big question is who is going to start alongside LeBron, AD, and Westbrook.
Untimely injuries to Trevor Ariza as well as Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, Malik Monk, and Wayne Ellington have derailed Lakers ‘ head coach Frank Vogel’s basic plan to have the same starting lineup all season long. Earlier in the season, the Lakers likely starting lineup was projected to include the three superstars plus Wayne Ellington and Trevor Ariza but it now appears neither will be available to play Tuesday night due to injuries.
Although Monk and Nunn both returned to practice today, there’s been no official word yet as to whether they’ll be ready to play Tuesday night. Right now, here are the four best options Vogel has to fill out the starting lineup:
1. KENT BAZEMORE, STARTING SMALL FORWARD
While the Lakers struggled and lost all six of their preseason games, Kent Bazemore was clearly one of the team’s bright spots, playing solid perimeter defense and shooting 36% on a respectable volume of 4.2 threes per game.
While his 112.1 defensive rating for the preseason only ranked 13th on the Lakers and his offensive rating of 89.0 ranked 15th on the team, Bazemore was singled out by Vogel for his excellent defense and 3-point shooting. While only 6' 4" and 195 pounds, Kent has a 7' 0" wingspan that enables him to play and defend both the shooting guard and small forward positions. His greatest ‘ability’ might be his availability as injuries limit his competitors.
With Ariza out for another 6 to 8 weeks, Bazemore may have locked up the fourth starting spot because of his balance of shooting and defense. That he also started five of the six preseason games is a solid indication he will start.
2. DEANDRE JORDAN, STARTING CENTER
Frank Vogel loves two big defenders in his starting lineups and seems hell bent on repeating the twin towers lineups from the Lakers’ championship in the bubble with DeAndre Jordan assuming JaVale McGee’s starting role.
While Jordan had a poor 91.7 offensive rating, 105.0 defensive rating, and -13.3 net rating for preseason, he did start at center in the Lakers’ final preseason game, which was labeled as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for opening night. The problem with starting Jordan at the five is it moves Anthony Davis to the four and leaves only shooting guard as a position for a high volume, high percentage 3-point shooter to create spacing for the Lakers’ superstars.
While the Lakers won a championship starting a low post center in the regular season, starting Jordan would be a major mistake that would leave the starting lineup without enough 3-point shooting to create spacing.
3. CARMELO ANTHONY, STARTING POWER FORWARD
The injuries to Ariza, Horton-Tucker, Ellington, Monk, and Nunn may force coach Frank Vogel to start Carmelo Anthony at power forward alongside Anthony Davis at center with LeBron James then moving to small forward.
This might not be the permanent starting lineup Frank Vogel was hoping for but at least it does include Anthony Davis playing the five and two starting spots for elite 3-point shooters between Melo and whoever plays the two. Because of Mel’s subpar defense, the Lakers would likely have to start Bazemore at the two so they would not end up with two poor defenders. Melo did shoot 43.5% on 4.6 threes per game, second best to Malik Monk.
With the injuries limiting Vogel’s choice, starting Melo and Bazemore may be the best Frank Vogel can do right now to give the Lakers size and shooting to go with their superstar big three of James, Davis, and Westbrook.
4. AUSTIN REAVES, STARTING SHOOTING GUARD
Austin Reaves has been the surprise of the Lakers’ preseason. Undrafted, he impressed enough to earn a two-way contract, which was then converted to a regular NBA contract as the 23-year old enjoyed a breakout training camp.
Reaves is obviously a long shot to start alongside LeBron, AD, and Russ but the 23-year old, 6' 5,” and 195 pound shooting guard could well be the Lakers’ best option to start at the two due to his solid 3-point shooting and defense. What Austin brings to the starting lineup is a balance of savvy playmaking, high volume and quality 3-point shooting, great size and rotational instincts on defense, and solid basketball IQ and great maturity as a rookie.
If Frank Vogel’s goal in building a starting lineup is to surround LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook with the two players who best complement them, then Austin Rivers should be the starting shooting guard.
There are obviously other candidates besides the above four whom Frank Vogel could decide might start for the Lakers along with the superstar big three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.
Of the other seven players on the roster, I excluded Ariza, Horton-Taylor, or Ellington as they’re unlikely to be available and Howard, Nunn, Monk, or Rondo, as they’re all far better suited to come off the bench for the Lakers. I’m hoping Frank Vogel does not start DeAndre Jordan as that would create major spacing issues for the Lakers’ starting lineup and leave the Lakers vulnerable to not having enough 3-point shooting to win enough games.
In the end, I think Vogel’s best starting option to complement the big three would be Austin Reaves and Kent Bazemore because of shooting and defense. Second best option would be Kent Bazemore and Carmelo Anthony.