The Los Angeles Lakers are a tale of two teams. And that’s good news.
There’s the vets’ team with 32-year old Rajon Rondo at point guard, 27-year old Lance Stephenson at shooting guard, 33-year old LeBron James at small forward, 29-year Michael Beasley at power forward, 30-year old JaVale McGee at center. While there’s no question LeBron James is the best player on the team as well as the planet, the question is whether he’d be enough by himself to make the vets a better team than the kids. That’s not certain.
Then there’s the kids’ team with 20-year old Lonzo Ball at point guard, 23-year old Josh Hart at shooting guard, 20-year old Brandon Ingram at small forward, 23-year old Kyle Kuzma at power forward, and 21-year old Moritz Wagner at center. Ball, Hart, Ingram, and Kuzma are likely the team’s four best players after LeBron and have the advantage of the team continuity and chemistry that naturally comes from having played together for a full season.
While a lineup of all vets or kids is unlikely to be part of the Lakers’ plans, there’s certainly a good chance the vets versus kids matchup will happen in practice. In fact, Luke and the players could very well make the matchup a recurring staple of the Lakers’ practices. And while the Lakers likely starting and closing lineups will undoubtedly contain a mix of vets and kids, it’s not impossible that we may actually see an all vets or all kids lineup at times.
Basketball is always about the matchups and what makes the vets versus the kids such a fascinating matchup is the fact Magic Johnson declared LeBron would be the only player guaranteed to start, without specifying his position. In other words, the other four starting positions are open for competition, which means there will be a vet and a kid competing for the starting point guard, shooting guard, either small or power forward, and center positions.
So let’s take a closer look at the matchups for a vets versus kids by position:
- PG: 32-year old Rajon Rondo vs. 20-year old Lonzo Ball.
Rajon averaged 8.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks in 26.2 minutes per game while Lonzo averaged 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks in 34.2 minutes per game.
Rondo is the better playmaker in half court while Lonzo is excels as full court playmaker. Solid advantage to Lonzo because of elite defense.
- SG: 27-year old Lance Stephenson vs. 23-year old Josh Hart.
Lance averaged 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks in 22.6 minutes per game while Josh averaged 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. Josh led the Lakers in 3-point shooting at 39.6% and is a better defender than Lance. Solid advantage to Josh because of his 3-point shooting and defense.
- SF: 33-year old LeBron James vs. 20-year old Brandon Ingram.
LeBron averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks in 36.9 minutes per game while Brandon averaged 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks in 33.5 minutes per game. While Brandon is potentially the best of the Lakers budding young stars, LeBron is the best player in the world. Huge advantage to LeBron.
- PF: 29-year old Michael Beasley vs. 23-year old Kyle Kuzma.
Michael averaged 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1,7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.6 blocks in 22.3 minutes per game while Kyle averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks in 31.2 minutes per game. Both players are elite offensive threats who can struggle defensively. Slight advantage to Kyle because of his youth and better defense.
- CE: 30-year old JaVale McGee vs. 20-year old Moritz Wagner.
JaVale averaged 4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks in 9.5 minutes per game while Moritz averaged 14.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game at Michigan.
JaVale is obviously the more athletic and experienced center having won two rings with the Warriors. Solid advantage to JaVale because defense.
Based on the above analysis, the matchup between the Lakers’ new signed vets versus the Lakers’ budding young stars looks to be as close as possible. The Lakers’ vets have a huge advantage with LeBron James at small forward and a solid advantage with JaVale McGee at center while the Lakers’ kids have solid advantages with Lonzo Ball at point guard and Josh Hart at shooting guard and a slight advantage at power forward with Kyle Kuzma.
It’s going to be fun to see who’s better when the vets and kids scrimmage.
The increased competition should from the newly signed vets should help the Lakers budding young stars rapidly accelerate their growth and development. The obvious goal is to find the right combination of vets and kids that can win enough games not only to make the playoffs but also to become the kind of dangerous playoff team that no opponent wants to meet in the early rounds.
Early pundit predictions project the Lakers’ likely starting lineup to include Lonzo Ball at point guard, Josh Hart at shooting guard, Brandon Ingram at small forward, LeBron James at power forward, and JaVale McGee at center. To close games, the Lakers plan to play small ball and replicate the Warriors ‘Death Lineup’ by replacing JaVale McGee at center with LeBron James and bringing Kyle Kuzma off the bench to replace LeBron at power forward.
The one thing the Lakers’ ability to field competitive five-man lineups of newly signed veterans or budding young stars clearly demonstrates is how deep and versatile the Lakers’ roster for the upcoming season actually is.