With the Lakers roster (basically) full, the next step for the team is to appropriately build out lineups and rotations in order to maximize the group they have assembled. As I wrote after the Lakers re-signed Alex Caruso, the team’s choices at point guard did not offer a single player who had the complete skill set to flank what I believed would be the best starting group (Caruso, as I noted, was probably the best option). It seems the Lakers are thinking something different at that spot, though, by slotting LeBron James as the team’s starting PG.
The new-look Los Angeles Lakers are heading into the 2019-20 season with the intention of starting LeBron James at point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
James, 34, will be entering his 17th NBA season and is prepared to become the floor general in an effort to maximize a roster that’s suddenly built to contend for a championship with the addition of All-Star forward Anthony Davis and a few complementary pieces.
James, a four-time league MVP, and newly acquired Danny Green are expected to start in the backcourt, sources said.
While this is a significant report from Haynes, I’m not going to lie, my first thought when reading this was “oh, it’s the same as it always was.” You see, despite the Lakers want to bring on more playmakers and ball-handlers to last year’s team, LeBron basically scrapped that plan by the middle of November and became the team’s point guard. It did not matter if he was playing next to pure points like Lonzo Ball or Rajon Rondo, LeBron carried the bulk of the ball handling and offensive initiation duties on his shoulders and was the chief decision maker on the team — especially in high leverage situations or critical offensive possessions.
So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because while the Lakers have, rightfully, scrapped the surround LeBron with playmakers philosophy in favor of surround LeBron with shooters and finishers, he’ll still be the guy he was last season; he’ll be the guy controlling the team’s offense by initiating their sets, dictating the pace of the game, and operating in the hub of the team’s offense.
The more interesting part of this to me, then, isn’t that LeBron is starting at point guard, but rather who will be starting next to him. Haynes mentions Danny Green as the starting SG. That was always a given. Anthony Davis will also start, of course. The other two spots are up for debate and, I’d imagine, intense competition in training camp.
For me, I’d venture to guess (or maybe this is a hope) that one of the re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or recently added Avery Bradley will start at the other perimeter position and either DeMarcus Cousins or JaVale McGee will start at center. And, if I were to bet on July 8th, I’d probably go with KCP and Cousins.
I say this because this is the 5 man group that gives the Lakers the best opportunity to create a balanced rotation while offering enough defensively at the beginning of games. KCP will guard point guards. Green will guard the better offensive player between the SG and the SF. LeBron will guard the other. Davis will guard PF’s, where the rotations require better range and movement. Cousins will guard Centers, where he can play in drop coverages and stay closer to the paint more often.
Offensively, LeBron can play in a single high offense that has the ability to space out with all 5 players on the floor while also giving the team the ability to run mirrored actions on both sides of the floor regardless of the big/wing combination. Both KCP and Green offer similar skill sets — they will both run off screens via wide pin-downs or floppy actions. Cousins and Davis can both set those screens well and either flow into post ups or pop out to be perimeter threats. Both bigs can also effectively run P&R’s with LeBron while providing versatility as dive and pop options. You can also run double-high P&R’s with Davis and Cousins setting a high ball screen with one diving and the other popping while LeBron tries to get downhill to threaten the rim and Green/KCP spacing to either wing.
In terms of lineup balance, the Lakers can then use Kuzma in a more natural role as a 6th man, coming in for one of Davis or Cousins (probably the latter) with the rest of the rotation filling in around them. Depending on matchups, you might then see Bradley or Caruso come in for KCP, Cook for LeBron, and Dudley for Green. Eventually JaVale or Cousins could replace Anthony Davis and you could have a new bench-based lineup that looks like Caruso/Bradley/Kuzma/Dudley/Cousins (or JaVale). Swap out Rondo and/or Cook for Caruso and/or Bradley and you have a different type of lineup with either more shooting (Cook) to offer floor spacing or experience as a pure PG (Rondo) to run more deliberate half-court offense while inserting one of Bradley/Caruso would offer better defense and combo-guard ability.
You have this versatility because of LeBron and his ability to be a swiss army knife. Mind you, this won’t be his only role — he could easily be slotted next to any guard on the roster and adjust accordingly to either take on more or less ball handling responsibility, be a screener in the P&R, or run any number or actions to ultimately get an isolation for himself against a favorable matchup. Cousins and Davis can share in offensive initiation duties too, especially in grab-and-go situations that do not lead directly to transition opportunities, but instead flow into delayed half-court offense. This is the beauty of having skilled bigs like the Lakers will possess.
In the end, then, I’m fully on board with LeBron at point guard, especially since the KCP and Bradley signings, in tandem with Green on the perimeter with Davis lurking on the back line, can trigger defensive lineups which cover him up defensively. Yes, there is potential downside in playing this way, but with LeBron we should all know by now using him this way is the most likely outcome as long as he’s even remotely close to his prime — which he is. And when you add in the construction of this specific roster, we probably all should have seen this coming.