With the recent signings of Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, the Lakers roster should be officially set. As we know, the Lakers are going into next season as the two-time defending champions. Their goal will be, as it always is, to bring home the Larry O’ Brien Trophy, but during the course of the season, the Lakers will set a series of miniature goals to help them reach the ultimate goal. One of those miniature goals will be to reduce the minutes of the Lakers’ starters. Kobe Bryant will be entering his 15th season as a Laker, Andrew Bynum has been injury prone, Derek Fisher is receiving AARP magazines in the mail and Ron Artest was one of the most beat up Lakers at the end of last season. Only Pau Gasol is heading into the three-peat season looking like he can take on as many or more minutes than last year as he will be taking his first summer away from international play in quite some time – but even with a set of fresher legs, it would be nice if the Lakers can win games with Gasol playing fewer minutes. If the Lakers can reduce the minutes of the starting unit, it not only keeps them fresh for the post-season, but it also means that the Lakers reserves are getting more meaningful minutes during the regular season. Considering the learning curve of the triangle offense and the fact that there are five new additions to the Lakers roster, more minutes for those guys will do wonders come the playoffs.
So how does Phil Jackson slash minutes from the starting unit? Mitch Kupchak has already given Jackson a head start with improving on a roster that just won its second straight NBA title. Up top, the Lakers feature Fish, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown. On the wings the Lakers can play any combination of Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. Up front, they have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and newly acquired Theo Ratliff. Phil is just going to have to work out a steady rotation that allows a more equal distribution of minutes.
To start games, the Lakers will throw out a Fisher-Bryant-Artest-Gasol-Bynum lineup. A trend that we’ve seen from Phil Jackson is him letting Kobe and Pau play 10-12 minutes in the first quarter while giving Bynum and Fisher early breathers. What this has done in the past is forced the Lakers to play without both Kobe and Pau to start second quarters. More often than not, the Lakers would have the lead with Kobe/Pau on the floor only to watch that lead get chipped away. Kobe and/or would have to come back into the game much earlier than Phil would have liked, adding to their respective minutes logged.
To combat this problem, Phil can move Kobe to the bench with Fisher and Bynum, bringing in Blake, LO and Barnes. Now, to end the first quarter, we’re looking at a lineup that features a Blake-Barnes-Artest-Odom-Gasol lineup. They may lose a bit of scoring with this lineup, but they really don’t lose anything defensively. Then, to start the second quarter, Jackson can keep Barnes and Odom on the floor, bring in Shannon Brown and bring back any two the starting trio (Fisher, Kobe, Bynum) that left earlier, giving Jackson a Fisher-Kobe/Brown-Barnes-Odom-Bynum lineup to start the second. This keeps either Kobe or Gasol on the floor for the majority of, if not all of the first half. Gasol will be able to take his breather for the first six minutes of the second quarter, and come back in to close out the half strong.
It would be ideal to have Shannon Brown starting the second instead of Kobe, and have Kobe come in for Barnes a few minutes into the quarter. This will have Fisher playing 12-15 first half minutes, Kobe playing 15-18, Artest playing 15-18, Gasol 15-18 and Bynum playing 12-15. Of course, these things never work out exactly as planned, but this lays a blueprint for how the Lakers can attack this issue. Keeping these guys under 20 minutes not only addresses their collective MPG problems, but it also allows the starting unit to have fresher legs to close out fourth quarters or better – open up the second half strong enough that the reserves get to close out games. I know that it’s extremely early, and roles haven’t been defined yet, but it’s never too early to talk about ways to win and keep players healthy. Do you guys have any ideas on how the Lakers can reduce minutes? Share them in the comments.