Why Darvin Ham’s Starting Lineups And Rotations Could Be Big Problem
The 26–32 Los Angeles Lakers got a potential season-saving infusion of talent before the trade deadline as Rob Pelinka pulled off four trades that brought back six new players, including five who will be in the rotation.
That means Lakers’ rookie head coach Darvin Ham must put together revised starting lineups and rotations that include Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Mo Bamba.
That could be worrisome as Ham’s questionable starting lineups and rotations, baffling preference for starting Dennis Schröder, and strange penchant for playing three-guard mini-lineups were heavily criticized.
With just 24 regular season games left in their season, the Lakers need to win almost every single game to make the play-in or playoffs and simply don’t have time to experiment with different starting lineups or rotations.
They will only have one chance to decide who starts and who is a backup. The Lakers desperately need rookie head coach Darvin Ham to make the right decisions on their starting lineups and rotations to win games.
That’s a heavy burden to put on a rookie head coach who’s already had to deal with major roster issues like talking Russell Westbrook into coming off the bench and dealing with a roster seriously lacking in size and shooting.
Ham’s won universal praise for how he handled Westbrook and for getting the Lakers to hang around without James and then without Davis but it’s up to him to construct a winning starting lineup and rotation for stretch run.
So let’s take a look at whom Darvin Ham is likely to start for the Lakers and whom is he’s likely to include in rotation as backups coming off the bench as the Lakers prepare to make one last-ditch stretch-run for the playoffs.
Lakers’ Starting Lineup
While it could change, it currently appears Lakers’ coach Darvin Ham will start Dennis Schröder, D’Angelo Russell, and Rui Hachimura alongside superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis for their final 24-games.
The criticism of Ham’s decision has been immediate and fierce because starting a non-shooter like Schröder does not help the Lakers’ spacing and forces them to use shooting guard Austin Reaves as backup point guard.
After the trade deadline moves, everybody expected D’Angelo Russell to become the starting point guard and Dennis Schröder to replace Russell Westbrook as the team’s 6th man and point guard for the second unit.
The issue is also not that Schroder isn’t capable of playing mostly off the ball as a shooting guard, it’s that there are better options that provide the Lakers with better outside shooting and spacing for James and Davis.
Starting Schroder also likely prevents starting another non-shooter like Jarred Vanderbilt, who could be the starting small forward and shut- down defender if the team started a shooter like Malik Beasley at the two.
After watching Malik Beasley catch fire and hit 6 of 12 threes in a quarter and a half, one has to wonder at why Ham would not want to start Russell and Beasley, both of whom are among the top-15 in 3-point attempts.
A Lakers’ starting lineup with a backcourt of Russell and Beasley and a front court of Vanderbilt, James, and Davis would have elite 3-point shooting and a shut-down defender to guard other team’s leading scorer.
Darvin Ham needs to rethink starting Dennis Schröder and instead consider starting either Malik Beasley or Austin Reaves so Schröder can take over Westbrook’s role as 6th man and point guard for second unit.
Lakers’ Backup Rotation
If the Lakers start Dennis Schröder, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis, their backup rotation would be Austin Reaves, Malik Beasley, Troy Brown Jr, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Mo Bamba.
Basketball is not hockey where coaches sub out an entire lineup. In other words, Lakers fans should never expect to see Reaves, Beasley, Brown Jr, Vanderbilt, and Bamba on the court together, except under Darvin Ham.
For some reason, Darvin Ham is not a strong believer in staggering his two superstars and two point guards to make sure the Lakers have always have a superstar and point guard on the court for all 48 minutes of the game.
The Blazers game was a perfect example of what happens when a coach doesn’t set some simple rules for rotations such as always have a superstar, point guard, rim protector, and three shooters in the lineup at all times. With 3:20 left in the first quarter, Ham went with a lineup without Davis, Russell, and Schröder just as Dame re-entered the game. The result was the Blazers immediately turned a 3-point edge into a 15-point halftime lead.
Schröder and Ham have a long-time relationship and talked about the former playing point guard for the latter if were ever on the same team. That doesn’t mean Dennis should start, especially if not best for the team.
There’s been speculation in the media that Pelinka may have promised Schröder a starting point guard job to get him to sign like he did with Drummond last season. If so, time has come to break that promise.
If Darvin Ham insists on continuing to start Dennis Schröder at point guard, the Lakers’ starting lineup and rotations will struggle and their chances of winning enough games to make the playoffs will disappear
Do Starting Lineups and Rotations Matter?
Whenever fans complain about their coach’s starting lineups and rotations, there’s always clapback that who starts doesn’t matter or who closes is more important. The truth is lineup building is as much art as science
First and most important, lineup building is about optimizing the potential synergy five players could have on the court together while making sure each lineup iteration was comprised off the critical mandatory elements.
For the Lakers, that means building 5-player lineups with one superstar, one point guard, one rim protector, and three 3-point shooters. It also means knowing that at least a fourth of the game will depend on subs.
It’s obvious head coach Darvin Ham’s inexplicable preference for starting Dennis Schröder this season is an eerie doppelganger of Frank Vogel’s equally inexplicable preference for starting Avery Bradley last season.
At some point, Ham has to realize that his trust and loyalty to Schröder cannot result in not putting the best possible team on the court to win. Otherwise, he’s likely to end up at the end of the year just like Vogel.
The All-Star break could not have come at a better time for the Lakers than right now as Darvin Ham desperately needs time and guidance on who to start and what rotations to make when the team makes its stretch run.
Hopefully, Rob Pelinka and other members of the front office will work with Ham over the break to get him to understand that starting Schröder at point guard is not the best strategy to build a championship rotation.
Starting Schröder could cause the Lakers to miss the playoffs and Ham to lose his job. Darvin and the Lakers need to make sure to get their starting lineup and rotation strategy right to make a run after the All-Star Break.
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