A Way Too Early Roster Projection

Darius Soriano —  September 18, 2013

With the news that the Lakers have signed Marcus Landry to a make good contract for training camp, the team now has 15 players under contract. When you add Ryan Kelly, who due to his lingering foot issues remains unsigned, the Lakers have 16 players expected to truly compete for a roster spot heading into next season. Training camp should provide the insight we need to determine who fills out the roster and who is sent packing looking for that next, fleeting opportunity to fulfill their dreams by playing in the NBA.

But who wants to wait for camp to predict? Certainly not me. So, below is a completely way too early projection of who makes the team with a brief explanation of why I believe this to be true (including some notes on where they may fit into the rotation). First a couple of notes which may (or may not) influence the final decisions:

*As noted, the Lakers have 15 players signed to actual contracts and, if Kelly can prove healthy, will have 16 come time for camp. NBA rosters max out at 15 and in seasons past the Lakers have carried only 14 players on the roster, preferring to keep a roster spot open for flexibility purposes in trades or if the need to sign a free agent arises. Basic math implies of the 16 players, at least two will be cut.

*Four players have partial or no guarantees on their contracts heading into camp. Per Eric Pincus of the LA Times, Shawn Williams and Elias Harris have partial guarantees of $100K on their deals. Marcus Landry and Xavier Henry’s contracts are fully unguaranteed. We’re not yet sure what Kelly’s contract will look like, but with his recovery clouding the situation, I’d guess he gets a partial guarantee similar to what Harris and Williams got.

With all that said, that leaves 11 players on the team with fully guaranteed contracts. All 11 will make the team. This is not a question. If you doubt this, one only need to look back to last season where every player with a guarantee on his deal (including Darius Morris and Chris Duhon) made the team while players who showed as much or more during the pre-season but had no or partial guarantees (including Chris Douglass-Roberts and Darius Johnson-Odom) were ultimately waived before their contracts would be fully guaranteed. Remember, the CBA states that the Lakers would be paying the salary of any player with a guaranteed contract wether they keep them or not. And, since the Lakers are a tax team, that salary is (essentially) doubled. The Lakers aren’t in the business of paying people to go away, so they’re certainly not in the business of paying them twice.

Now, on to the projection…

The Starters

Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant (whenever he’s healthy), Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill, and Pau Gasol. The big three of Nash, Kobe, and Pau don’t need an explanation — they’re the team’s best three players. As for Hill, he’s the team’s most active big man, both defensively and on the glass. He’s reportedly been working on his shooting range and he’s a natural defensive complement next to Gasol while also fitting well next to the Spaniard offensively, especially in the HORNS (double elbow) sets the team ran a lot of last year.

The surprise here is Wesley Johnson who will go from barely getting off the bench for the Suns to starting for the Lakers. Johnson isn’t the most talented remaining wing, but he offers what the others don’t — defensive potential. Kobe is at the point in his career where he can’t be asked to guard the other team’s best wing for every minute he’s on the floor. Johnson, however, is. He’s young, long, and relatively athletic. He’s also not going to be asked to expend much energy on offense, so he can pour everything he has into chasing the Kevin Durants of the world around.

The Key Reserves

Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks. Let’s start with Young and Kaman since their roles are easiest to define. Young, who would probably like to be starting, is a pure gunner whose skills are better suited to a reserve role where he’s not competing for touches or shots with Kobe. He can bring an offensive spark to the bench and be a bailout option when sets break down. Kaman is the clear first big off the bench and can either come in for Pau (hopefully) or Hill depending on the match up. He can also be an offensive focal point working both as a post up option and a spot up shooter in pick and pop actions.

Farmar, Blake, and Meeks will all be fighting for minutes together, with Meeks likely being the guy who suffers in terms of floor time. Both Farmar and Blake will see minutes at point and shooting guard, but I expect a rotation to shake out where Blake sees more of his minutes as a shooting guard while Farmar mostly plays point guard. I won’t guess at a minutes allocation for these guys yet, but it will be hard to play 3 point guards and even harder to play 6 players between the shooting guard and small forward positions (Kobe, Young, Johnson, Farmar, Blake, Meeks). So, I expect someone to get squeezed at both PG and SG and those guys will likely be Blake at PG and Meeks at SG. So, if you’re doing the math at home, I have Blake beating out Meeks for minutes at SG. If this is a surprise, it shouldn’t be. Blake, for all his faults, is a better ball handler and shot creator, had a better year shooting the long ball, and works just as hard defensively. Even though Blake is smaller, I don’t think that matters to Mike D’Antoni.

The Other Guaranteed Guy

Robert Sacre is the 11th guaranteed contract and he’ll likely remain the “break glass in case of emergency” big man on this team. I liked what I saw from Sacre in summer league and I think he could be a bit minutes rotation player in the league in the right situation. He shows good instincts defensively and is clearly working on his mid-range jumper and his finishing around the rim in order to not be a liability offensively. Fact is, however, that on this team he’s the 4th center behind Pau, Kaman, and even Hill (who would play C in smaller lineups). We will still get his celebrations, though. So that’s a plus.

Spots 12 through 14

Elias Harris, Shawne Williams, and…Marcus Landry. The first question is probably, really? Three guys who kind of, sort of do the same thing? Well, the answer is yes. As noted way at the top, Harris and Williams have partial guarantees on their contracts. This gives them a slight head start. Beyond that, however, Harris is a versatile forward who brings aggressiveness and a really live body to the floor. If he can start to hit his jumper with more consistency and continue to work hard on defense, he could even earn minutes. Williams and Landry do similar things and have similar back stories with Mike D’Antoni and I think that gives both an edge. Williams is a bit more athletic and, while in a small sample, has a better track record as a shooter. Landry, as noted in my analysis when he was signed, competes hard on D and the glass and has a solid offensive repertoire that fits today’s NBA.

Lastly, all three of these players have positional versatility that will serve them (and the team) well as both contingency plans for other guys on the roster and to promote a variety of lineups. I can envision groupings where any of these three are playing either small or power forward and, depending on their teammates and the opposing personnel, fitting in nicely on both ends of the floor. So, even though these three guys seem similar, there’s enough variety between all three to make them keepers.

Sorry guys, but you didn’t make the cut

Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly could both easily make the team depending on how their camps go, but right now I don’t see it. With Kelly, I’m strictly looking at this from an injury standpoint. He was supposed to be healthy enough to be on the court by now, but he’s not. Meanwhile, the Lakers are having scrimmages at their practice facility and he’s not even signed to a contract yet. This isn’t an indictment on Kelly’s talent — as I wrote when he was drafted, I believe he’s a good fit for this team and could actually earn minutes should he make the team. But his injury uncertainty has him missing the cut right now.

As for Henry, it’s simply a numbers game. Once Kobe is healthy, the Lakers have a multitude of backcourt and wing options. When you add in the versatility of the 12 through 14 trio mentioned above, the space on the wing only tightens. I like Henry’s defensive potential and his draft pedigree, but at this point that hasn’t translated to actual production at the NBA level. The same can be said for several other players who I think make the team ahead of him, but them’s the breaks when you’re contract isn’t guaranteed and you don’t have any singular, identifiable skill that is NBA ready at this point.

Darius Soriano

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16 responses to A Way Too Early Roster Projection

  1. nick will start with or without kobe, johnson may never get off the bench,unless its a blow out.

  2. Interesting that Nash is included as the teams top 3 players. Career wise without a doubt….as 39 yr old who plays 25 min a game plays no defense and gets 12ppg and 7asst I can’t make him the undisputed best 3rd player especially when other posters have said Farmar is likely the best point guard currently. Will Farmar ever start ahead of Nash? Probably not. D’Antoni has a loyalty and affinity towards Nash from their past and even from his comments last season when Nash was hurt, it was implied that once Nash was healthy all will be well in Laker nation.

    As for Hill, it will be interesting to see if he tries to extend his range to the 15-20 foot or if he is going to try to work on the 3ball. Hill is an active player but for someone with his tenacity as a rebounder, whether it is lack of physical skills or attention to game planning, he is an average defender at best.

    I’m thinking Williams, if he is as aggressive as D’Antoni claims and still has talent and ability to stretch the floor and shoot high 30s and low 40s from 3 he will likely be in an Earl Clark type role and he provides versatility. I like Williams over Hill if not for advantages in shooting as well as positional versatility and ability to somewhat switch on PnR.

    Blake vs Meeks. 41% 3pt shooter vs 35% 3pt shooter. My opinion of Meeks is that he is more of a bull defensively. I just hated when he would just put his head down and try to drive through the heart of the defense when he can’t finish and that really isn’t his game.

    Trying to understand D’Antoni’s rotation and predict it is impossible given that he loves a smaller ball and won’t have the same pressure to play Kaman that he did with Gasol. And the supposed introduction of the 11 man lineups which I think will be essentially a 9-10 lineup at best with the 10th or 11th man eating up a few minutes here and there makes it even harder to predict.

  3. Nick might start without Kobe, but not with Kobe starting. Landry and Henry fighting for the last spot,don`t count Henry out.

  4. If Kelly signs but fails to make the roster, do the Lakers retain his rights (to assign to the D-League), or would he become a free agent as a result of not making the 15-man squad?

    (The fact that I even have to ask this question makes me fell better about not paying a lick of attention to the draft this past summer.)

  5. Chris,
    He would become a FA in that scenario.

  6. It’s been reported that Nick Young’s signing was contingent on him starting; so unless he’s vastly outplayed in training camp/preseason, it looks like he will be the starting small forward (possibly starting two while Kobe’s out).

  7. Jonothan,
    I’d love to see a link to that report. Thanks in advance.

  8. I’m guessing the Lakers will bring in another 1-4 guys for camp (some combination of bigs and guards?). Any clues? Do they plan to get some of the current D-Fenders and/or Summer League players?

  9. Jonathon – As in, Nick Young signed on the condition that he starts?

    Ah … hahahahahaha !!

  10. Darius,

    Nice write up. I agree wholeheartedly with your starting line up. I am very much intrigued with the idea of watching Jordan Hill team up with Pau and balance Pau’s finesse with his own all-out grab-every-rebound-in-the-building fervor.

    Similarly, I think that Wes Johnson (if he has a good training camp) could very well start at the SF position. Kobe would provide the offense, Johnson the defense and coverage on the perimeter.

    As a result, I see Jordan Hill as being perhaps analogous to OKC’s Serge Ibaka and Wes Johnson as the Lakers’ equivalent of Thabo Selalosha (but, hopefully, with a little more offense).

    That leaves the bench…which I think could be crucial to the Lakers’ fortunes this year. I personally don’t believe that the Lakers will go 11-deep (despite D’Antoni’s earlier hyperbolic statement). In fact, going 11-deep is almost impossible in the NBA. That would mean a regular bench rotation of Kaman, Farmar, Nick Young, and possibly Jodie Meeks (or Steve Blake). That would also mean that there would be a couple of holes to fill–backup SF and backup PF.

    I’m particularly concerned about the Power Forward position. Will one of the young guys step up–Elias Harris, Marcus Landry? Will Shawne Williams regain his sea legs after being out of the game for a year? Will Ryan Kelly heal in time to make an impact (let alone make the team)?

    As for the SF position–would that be Nick Young’s job even though he’s played guard most of his career? Is Xavier Henry a viable option? Would one of the other young players–especially those with some versatility like Harris and Landry–be able to fill in at the SF?

    As you can see, there are some pressing questions to answer. The good news is that they will be answered–somehow. That’s what training camp is for. That’s why I think this training camp could be very competitive and interesting. Players will be fighting for their careers. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

  11. MettaRon likes your lowered Lakers expectations… to p00p on! If Lakers winning the championship this coming year is good enough for MettaRon to break out the hyperbole machine on behalf of his old team, I’m with him on the bandwagon. There’s nothing to lose in being ridiculous if not gambling.

    My concern about Kobe Bryant for the short term as I think his best effectiveness will be working off the low block which will slow down the rock and necessitate different spacing with Gasol (less my concern as they will be the two best low post players and they both pass well). But that slows the ball down more and keeps the ball out of Nash’s hands. Him being effective on the perimeter as he was 2012-13, I feel is history or I can’t see him fully trusting that tendon until near season’s end. Ball distribution will have to increase in his game even without Worthy’s statement because he’s going to need attract real baller/s to help him to the mountain top again. Long term, his catching Kareem’s record is jeopardized. I think an Achilles injury shortens his career even if he comes back 90% of what he was. Ultimately, let him prove me wrong. I won’t mind that.

    MDA concern: Never been a fan but I’d like to see how quickly he responds to change this go around and exhibit more flexibility in a timelier fashion rather than coming with lame excuses after the fact. Because of the roster, he’s getting a second year of get-out-of-jail-free passes, so be it. At the same time, these contract players will get some time to learn his offense and hopefully things click. 3 point sharp shooting is an obvious need but they are really going to need someone who cuts to the hole well. That what something that they really missed with Barnes changing locker rooms. Jamison also had a good nose for spacing. This is where Farmar can give a boost and preferably one of the new wings.

    Nash concern: As always, health. Old Nash needs 20 strong minutes. He’s awesome competitor but I’d rather see him awesome at low minutes for a full season than going 30 minutes/ >72 games.

  12. r

    Starts one game of 82

  13. I’d be very surprised if Shawne Williams doesn’t move ahead of Landry and Harris. He has the strongest pro resume of the three, and the most polish to his game. Harris beats out Landry for a roster spot because of his superior rebounding and defensive potential. I agree with Ed about Henry: he just might make the squad–especially if Blake or Meeks are moved for cap reasons.

  14. Picking up on Bryan S’s point, I see Steve Blake being moved for cap reasons. We are, in essence, trying to be a non-tax team this season so as to reset our slot of repeat offender status.

    Jodie Meeks MAY also be on the chopping block depending on what he can fetch back in return. Nobody would pay a 1st rounder for him, but a high 2nd rounder would be good for us. His skillset is needed by many teams.

    Should Blake and Meeks proceed to be shaved off the roster, that opens the slot for more minutes for Farmar and the possible cementing of minutes for Young and Johnson. I can foresee the inclusion of Xavier Henry on our final roster because of the potential trades we will do. Don’t forget that we also need a roster spot for mid-season cuts made by other teams that may be needs for us. I like Sacre’s status as “break glass in case of emergency” …

  15. While like many others I am looking forward to a Gasol-Hill frontcourt, I just can’t shake the feeling that the starting duo we will see opening day will be Kaman-Gasol. I hope I’m wrong. But MDA has gone with weird lineups before, even when there seems to be a lot of evidence to the contrary.

  16. Hate to nitpick… But to call Nash a lock to be one of the Lakers top three players seems a little silly. Last year he was the teams second best PG and this year he projects to be the teams third best PG. I would say he is one of the Lakers top 3 PGs… That sounds more correct. He will be forty years old next year.