The Starting Lineup

Kurt —  October 8, 2007

Most teams go to camp with a pretty good idea of who the starting five will be, and I think most Laker fans thought they knew too — Fisher, Bryant, Walton, Odom and Bynum (or, maybe Brown).

But a new idea that fits with the team’s focus on defense and energy has come to the front — starting Ronny Turiaf at the four, moving Lamar Odom to the three and having Luke Walton come off the bench. It was talked about in the comments here in the theoretical early last week (credit to kwame a. and Carter), then Phil Jackson said he was thinking about doing it later in the week. (No, those two things are not related.)

There’s a lot to like with the idea. A front line of Odom, Turiaf, Bynum is going to be big, hit the boards hard and bring a lot more energy on defense than what we saw last year — but there are concerns and tradeoffs, too.

First, let’s look at the numbers of what this lineup would bring us on the defensive end (based on last year’s performance).

Stat 06-07 07-08?
Blocks (per 40 min.) 3.9 6.4
Rebounds(per 40 min.) 26.8 30.2
Off. Reb. (per 40) 6.8 8.2

That is a lot more blocks, and a little intimidation in the paint along with it, plus that front line would be a force on the glass. For a more all-encompassing stat, let’s look at the defensive PER across the front line (3, 4, 5):

06-07: 16.8/17.4/18.6
07-08: 13.4/16.3/18.6

In all honesty I think the results will be even better at the four and five spots — both Turiaf and Bynum will be a year more experienced and savvy. (For the record, I had last year’s starting front line as Walton, Odom and Bynum. I chose Bynum as the center for last year because he started more games than Kwame and played a higher percentage of the team’s minutes at center. I think he’ll be the starter this year because he has shown to be more in shape and ready for the workload, plus he is healthy and Kwame is not.)

The one concern on the defensive end is fouls — last year Turiaf averaged 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes, and if he is going to start he can’t do that. In part because he’ll have to be pulled five minutes into every game because he’ll have his second foul, and because he’ll push other teams toward the bonus early.

Putting Odom at the three, playing more on the wing (with Kobe facilitating the offense more) strikes me as a better fit for the triangle. It will put Odom in a position where he can shoot from the midrange or drive the lane, depending on what the defense gives him. That said, for this really to work, Odom needs to improve on his 39.6% (eFG%) on jump shots last year and his 29.7% shooting from three. He should improve those numbers as this switch should put him more in his comfort zone out on the perimeter, but if he doesn’t teams will lay off and dare him to shoot from the outside.

And then there is, no doubt, some sacrificing of offense in the starting five when you replace Walton with Tuiaf. Walton could space the floor better, shot 38.7% from three last year and is a more adept passer. Turiaf shoots well (54.9% last season) but he needs to be closer to the basket — last season he wisely didn’t even attempt a three. The Lakers will need Odom/Kobe/Fish and Bynum to pick up some of the scoring lost, something I think would happen.

What you lose in offense in the starting five you gain coming off the bench. The second five would be Farmar, Evans, Walton, Radmanovic and Kwame. (In reality, that five would not get a lot of time as a unit because Phil would play Odom or Kobe mixed in with that group to provide some offense). With Farmar and Walton on the floor you get guys who will run the offense and get teammates some easy, open looks. Radmanovic is a guy who can knock down those looks if he returns to anything near his form. Evans will be solid at both ends, as always.

But with Walton and Radmanovic on the front line, whichever center is out there with them will have to be a defensive force in the paint because those two will not be.

All that said, the idea of starting Turiaf has grown on me. Even if he is not the guy on the floor at the end of the game, he will ensure that there is energy from the opening tip off, and he will bring some defense that the Lakers sorely need to the table. It should make the Lakers a better team.

At least on paper. It will be interesting to see how things go, starting Tuesday night.