Within the next two months, the Lakers will begin training camp. While the team hopes to shock the league and critics alike by performing at a level that will see them compete for the playoffs, reality, as of today, is one of justified doubt. Most of that doubt, of course, centers on the roster construction of the team. After striking out in their chase for a major free agent this summer, the Lakers will field a team of mixed of hold-overs from last season’s disaster squad and new blood who has more questions than answers about how good they can perform next year*.
With that said, lets take a very early look the team’s depth chart, with a quick look at who should be slotted where in terms of starter vs bench and at what position:
- Jeremy Lin
- Steve Nash
- Jordan Clarkson
Unless Nash makes some miraculous recovery and is held on a strict minutes restriction as a starter, I see no scenario where Lin isn’t the clear cut starter. The question is more likely to be whether the Lakers sign a 4th point guard as insurance against a Nash injury and/or to avoid having to rely on a 2nd round rookie Jordan Clarkson (who, for the time being is not yet even signed). We have talked about Lin some already, but to recap he offers a well rounded offensive game and a solid defensive background. On this team, he’s clearly the best point guard and should be treated as such.
- Kobe Bryant
- Nick Young
Kobe at the top is obvious so lets leave any discussion about him for another day (or at least to the bottom of this post). The real question is if you see Young as the backup shooting guard or the starting small forward. Clearly, for me, it’s the former. While Young may fashion himself a starter, I still see him best suited as a reserve who offers scoring punch that can help prop up a second unit. I don’t have much doubt that Young can play next to Kobe in certain lineups, but I’d much prefer a better defender on the wing to serve as a better compliment to #24 on that end of the floor.
- Xavier Henry
- Wesley Johnson
Some might want to reverse this and to me that would be fine. Neither Henry nor Johnson are particularly strong players and both possess holes in their respective games. I choose Henry over Johnson, however, because he’s the more complete offensive player and when combined with what I see as only a marginal difference in defensive value, I’ll take the southpaw. In reality, though, this is easily the Lakers’ weakest position and I would not be surprised if Ryan Kelly ends up stealing some minutes at SF just because of the minute crunch that will exist at PF. The hope, though, is that Henry shows that some of the success he had last year was not a fluke and that he can continue to be an offensive player who can hit the three ball while getting to the paint to either finish or draw fouls to get to the FT line. That combination is the foundation for a useful offensive player and if he can learn to pass a bit better, he would be a nice complement in most lineups.
- Julius Randle
- Carlos Boozer
- Ryan Kelly
First of all, I would not be surprised if Boozer starts. He’s the veteran and his history of success will surely matter to Byron Scott and, to a certain extent, Kobe Bryant. I have Randle as the #1, though, because right now I think he offers more value and is actually the better pairing at PF with a lineup that features Kobe. For one, Randle’s quasi-perimeter oriented game should give Kobe more space to operate in the post and at the elbows offensively. Secondly, Randle’s ability to slash off the ball and make the catch to either finish or make the next pass will come in handy if/when Kobe draws extra defensive attention. Add in Randle’s superior athleticism to Boozer and how that can translate to better court coverage defensively and I’ll take the young pup over the old dog**. The other question, though, is how much will Ryan Kelly play in his more natural PF spot? With Boozer and Randle clearly in front of him, Kelly may struggle to see many (any?) minutes at PF. This will be a story worth watching as the season develops.
- Jordan Hill
- Ed Davis
- Robert Sacre
This seems pretty straight forward to me, but who knows how Scott will see it. Maybe he envisions Davis as more of a PF (which, if that is the case, the minute crunch becomes nearly untenable at PF). Maybe Sacre’s hard work will elevate him to the #2 center. What is clear, however, is that Hill is a center in this league and he should be getting roughly 28-32 minutes a night at that spot while Davis/Sacre fight for the other 16-20. Hill’s workload will vary by circumstance — is he getting tired? is he in foul trouble? — but for the most part he should see a heavy increase in minutes from last year and should see his per game averages jump up into the solid double-double range (I’m thinking something like 13 points and 10 rebounds) nightly.
Barring something unforeseen, this is about how I see things playing out — at least by the time the season ends. You can quibble with Young’s slotting or with Henry vs. Johnson, but these are minor things. None of these guys are true difference makers (though, to be fair, Young can win you a game if he gets hot from the field) and getting too wrapped up in where any one of them ends up isn’t a strong use of your time. At some point I’d imagine all will get their chance to show that they belong in the rotation, although my gut tells me Scott will not be nearly as shifty in his lineups as his predecessor was.
When looking at this team, especially when it’s laid out in this manner, it’s easy to see why folks would be down on this roster. Right now they have serious questions on the perimeter and a log-jam at the big man spots. As it has been in season’s past, this roster looks to be severely imbalanced and I wonder how Scott will manage to put together capable lineups that mesh well enough to compete while not shortchanging players out of minutes they’ll probably deserve. We’ll see how Scott approaches things, but in my humble opinion, the above is likely about the best he can do.
*Kobe can fit into either the “holdover” or “newcomer with question marks” categories for this particular post. Though he’ll be entering his 19th season with the team and is clearly an institution, he also only appeared in 6 games last year and has more questions than any other player on the roster due to his health and recovery from significant injury. In some ways, then, I find it hard to even group him with last year’s team but he’s definitely a guy who no one can be completely sure about. So, go ahead and classify him however you want.
**It’s yet to be seen how well Randle can defend at the NBA level and there are serious doubts he will be a guy who protects the rim as a back-line defender in the pros. Add in the fact that rookies — especially big men — face a tremendously steep learning curve defensively and there are more reasons to doubt. That said, Randle’s mobility is worlds better than Boozer’s and I am betting that mobility will translate to better ability to defend in space while also being able make the needed rotations to the three point and back to the paint that are required of big men. Plus, when it’s all said and done, we know that Boozer can’t defend well so I’d rather let Randle try and maybe fail than Boozer try and surely fail.