The Lakers need changes to come to the starting lineup.
This year’s Lakers roster is a peculiar mix of players with either a lot of experience or almost no experience at all. On one end of the spectrum are 37-year-old Kobe Bryant and 36-year-old Metta World Peace, followed by Brandon Bass, Lou Williams, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, and Marcelo Huertas, all of whom are between 29 and 32 years of age with a veteran experience at the professional level. On the other end of the scale are Robert Sacre who has completed three years in the NBA, Kelly who has two seasons behind him, and everyone else is either a rookie or second-year player.
In assembling this squad, the Lakers think-tank presumably expected the older players to share their wisdom and experience with the young guys while the energy and excitement of the younger players would rub off on the veterans.
Coach Byron Scott has followed this game plan, mixing veterans with young players in both the starting lineup and the second unit. Thus, most games, Bryant and Roy Hibbert have been paired in the starting lineup with three young players while Young, Williams and Bass comprise the second unit with Larry Nance, Jr. and either D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson, one of whom generally stays on the court with this group.
By now, except for those who are in in extreme denial, one must concede that this approach has not worked. The Lakers have won only two games, and, given their tough upcoming schedule, they could easily look up two weeks from now and find themselves with a record of 2-18.
Since the roster is set and there are no reinforcements available, the only realistic chance of seeing any improvement is by shuffling the deck.
Russell, Clarkson, and Julius Randle want to run and gun and would do better in that kind of offensive system. But the coaching staff has chosen to build the offense around the other two starters, Bryant and Hibbert, who are two of the league’s slower players. Plus, Bryant has made a career out of isolating himself and going one-on-one. As a consequence, the Lakers have been playing a slow, deliberate, isolation type of offense. Subsequently, they are not scoring many points and if you don’t outscore the other team, then you don’t win.
What would happen if the starting lineup consisted of Russell, Clarkson, Randle, Tarik Black, and either Nance or Anthony Brown? The second unit would be Bryant, Williams, Bass, Young, and Hibbert. That way, the starters could play the up-tempo game to which they would be better suited while the reserves would consist of veterans playing a slower, more deliberate game.
Russell, Clarkson, and Randle are already starters, but they are being forced to play a style that inhibits and frustrates them. Black is a high-energy player who runs up and down the court and fights hard on the boards. He does not protect the rim like Hibbert does, but he will rebound better and score more. They could be teamed with either Brown or Nance, both of whom are solid defenders who can run and score. It would be an exciting unit.
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Then, the second unit consisting of the veterans can come in, using their experience and playing a style that suits them better. Bryant, Williams, and Young are the quintessential isolation players, and they would be joined by Hibbert and Bass who would play tough defense. While this second unit would not compete with the top teams in the league, it is a solid group that should hold its own against most teams.
Of course, for the Lakers to take this step would require the kind of creativity and courage that would be unexpected from this coaching staff. Bryant would have to agree to come off the bench, which would be a smart, selfless act if he wants to truly act in the team’s best interest. Plus, he would probably play better in this configuration and wouldn’t look as bad (and miserable) on the court as he has thus far.
Hibbert might be upset by the move in what is a contract year for him, but most people think he will be traded at the deadline anyway to pick up a draft choice for next summer. Another factor standing in the way is that Scott does not like or trust young players, which is why he is not the ideal coach for a team whose main goal is developing young talent for the future. In fact, one could imagine that if Scott reconfigured the line-up and had his way, then he would reverse the order and start the veterans while bringing the younger group off the bench.
Since the roster is already is mismatched and not brimming with talent, there are only so many options available. Continuing on the current path has not worked and there is nothing to lose by switching things up. The morale of the team is sinking and Scott is at risk of losing the locker room entirely if things do not get better. It would be a bold move, but juggling the roster and fitting the pieces together better is worth a try. Should this occur, a starting line-up of Russell, Clarkson, Randle, Black, and either Brown or Nance might infuse some excitement into what has been a dreary season thus far.