Heading into this season there were certain potentially problematic realities about the construction of the Lakers’ roster.
First was the team having a mix of young and veteran players which all would need playing time to get the most out of them. Second was there being a strong skill-set overlap between multiple players who all like the ball in their hands as shot creators. And, third, the Lakers have a glut of power forwards on their roster.
Four (potentially) viable players at any single position on the roster is too many, and that is how many PF’s the Lakers currently have in Julius Randle, Brandon Bass, Larry Nance, Jr., and Ryan Kelly. Head coach Byron Scott has tried to manage this issue in different ways to start the year, mostly using a two-pronged approach.
The first part of this approach has been to simply leave a player out of the rotation. Larry Nance was that player to start the year. Nance is a rookie and was dealing with a sore knee when the season started so he was an obvious candidate. Nance’s emergence as a rotation player has shifted Ryan Kelly to the odd-man-out in recent games (not to mention Kelly was not playing particularly well on either end of the floor). This change has been for the best, but as someone who likes Kelly’s game, seeing him permanently buried isn’t a positive.
The second part of Byron’s plan has been to play Brandon Bass at Center rather than PF. Dating back to the preseason, Bass has seen the majority of his minutes next to another PF, to mostly mixed (this is generous) results.
Using these players this way has created a ripple effect. One, of course, is that the Lakers’ back up Centers are not getting any real minutes. Tarik Black has played 79 minutes all season and has not appeared in 4 of the team’s 11 games. Black has his flaws (he is undersized, for one), but was 2nd Team All-Rookie last season while posting a PER north of 15. Robert Sacre has played 4 minutes all year.
Another repercussion is that Bass is clearly playing out of position. There are nights where Bass looks perfectly capable of working against other team’s 5’s and then there are nights where he’s had to spar with DeMarcus Cousins or other players who have great size advantages over him.
None of this is ideal. And, really, a change will have to be made eventually simply to balance the roster and find more workable lineup combinations which put all the players in better positions to succeed. I simply do not think the team can live with Bass at C for the entire year, nor do I think this is what is best for Bass as a player.
This might seem like I am advocating the Lakers trade Bass and, I guess, I am. Though the sample has been small, Nance has shown he has enough of a rounded skill set, the physical tools, and the basketball IQ to earn minutes. Julius Randle is the starter and should be playing between 28-32 minutes a night. Ryan Kelly has not played well during the year, but he is still (relatively) young and has a skill set offensively the other players don’t quite have.
This leaves Bass as a PF being told to play out of position while both he and the team suffer for it. Again, this is not ideal. The best solution would be swapping Bass for A). a back up center the coaches trust to play over Tarik Black or B). swapping Bass for an empty roster spot to open up some flexibility should another trade opportunity arise or a free agent comes on the market which piques the Lakers’ interest.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Bass. In recent games he’s played better. He has a nice skill set offensively, plays hard, and is a smart defender who knows where he should be and when. In reality, the Lakers need more players like Bass, not less of them. However, slotting him a C limits the things he does well and magnifies the things he doesn’t. And while lineups with him at C can stay afloat for stretches, they are not lasting solutions.
I haven’t run through the trade machine to find a viable deal (nor will I), but this seems like the best solution for all involved. December 15th is the first day players who signed as free agents in the off-season can be traded. I am not Mitch Kupchak or Jim Buss, but I would hope they are exploring all their options for when that date comes so, if a deal materializes which balances out the roster better they can pounce.