Byron Scott has said that he D’Angelo Russell will return to the starting lineup at some point. All signs indicate this will likely occur after the All-Star Break when the Lakers enter their final leg of the season with only 27 games left on the schedule. This last burst should give the coach and front office ample time to see how Russell plays upon his return and offer data points to include in a development plan for the summer.
Russell’s return, however, isn’t the only change I would like to see. As the team heads into the stretch run, looking at the way to maximize all their young players by finding new lineup combinations via further rotation changes should be a priority. I mean, swapping Russell is fine, but also finding ways to play Black more, get Nance back into the rotation (good health in his knee permitting), and getting Anthony Brown back into the fold is also important.
With that, here is my proposal for the Lakers new starting 5 coming out of the All-Star Break:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Kobe Bryant
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brandon Bass
Why am I looking at that lineup specifically? Well, because the lineup data in the team’s most recent run of good play says it is working:
Last 10 games, that group has only appeared in 5 games for 23 total minutes. But has an OEff of 145.4 & a DEff of 87.8. Which is crazy.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) February 9, 2016
That’s a very small sample. So small, implying those numbers will predict future performance isn’t a good argument. However, over the course of the season, the sample is (somewhat) larger and tells a similar story. Over the full season, this group has appeared in 20 games and played 59 minutes together and, in those minutes, the team’s Offensive efficiency is 122.1 and their defensive efficiency is 104.5.
This sample isn’t much larger and with the movement in the numbers it implies the stretch before these last several games wasn’t so hot. However, those minutes would also include the stretches where Kobe was at his worst this season and when Bass was not playing very well at all. Balance all of this out, then, and a longer look at what this lineup could do is in order.
No change comes without consequences, though. And this change, specifically the Bass move to the starting lineup, would cause other ripple effects as Roy Hibbert would be removed from the starting group and the bench unit would lose a key player who has done well in his role. In the wake of this change, I would make the following rotation adjustments (note: these changes assume good health for the entire roster, including Larry Nance):
- Tarik Black and Roy Hibbert would split the back up C minutes, but with Black taking the majority of the minutes
- Larry Nance would back up Randle at PF
- Anthony Brown would return to the rotation as the back up SF
- Lou Williams would be the swing guard, playing SG and PG as needed
This would create the following 9/10 man rotation: Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Bass, Lou, Brown, Nance, Black/Hibbert. In this setup, Clarkson would be the back up PG, Black/Hibbert minutes might be switched up by match up (though, as noted, Black would get the priority), and Nick Young would be the 3rd string SF (and would play when Kobe sat). Huertas, Sacre, and Ron would be the “break glass in case of emergency” players who do not see any minutes unless there are a rash of injuries or extreme foul trouble.
These changes might cause some groans from the veterans. Byron would need to communicate to his players effectively, making sure they understand the reasons for these changes and what his expectations are for them for the rest of the year. I would imagine this discussion would focus on the want to get better looks at the young players while also playing the veterans who have earned the minutes (in this case, Lou and Bass have been better than Young and Hibbert).
In the end, I don’t see many good reasons to not shift towards the lineups I mention above, especially the starting group. Kobe needs to play — it’s his final year. But the focus also needs to shift more towards the young players. That means Russell back to being a starter and pairing him with better P&R options as often as possible (Bass, Black, and then Nance). Hopefully, Scott and the front office see things similarly.
*Some might ask why start Bass instead of Black? Well, the numbers — though some of them are small samples — tell me some pairings work better than others. Consider the following pairings:
- Bass/Randle: 314 minutes, 100.0 OEff, 101.9 DEff
- Black/Randle: 47 minutes, 99.8 OEfff, 128.6 DEff
- Bass/Nance: 174 minutes, 94.2 OEff, 104.4 DEff
- Black/Nance: 49 minutes, 95.5 OEff, 88.9 DEff
These numbers are pretty self explanatory. It’s clear which pairings have worked better together this year. Why not try to suss out if there is staying power in these numbers? If there is, the team may find some things which can be part of the future. If not, well, you learn something from that as well.