Los Angeles Lakers: 3 major questions ahead of the season restart

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(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

2. What will the Los Angeles Lakers’ guard rotation look like?

As mentioned in the previous slide, the Los Angeles Lakers will be missing two first-choice guards heading into the season restart. Even at full-strength, the back-court was the thinnest position on the Lakers’ roster, so naturally, the absences of Bradley and Rondo pose significant questions.

During the break, the Lakers’ front office exhibited awareness of the need for guard-depth, which lead to the signings of Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.

With the absence of Bradley and Rondo, based on regular-season rotations, approximately 45 point guard minutes are up for grabs. Fortunately, LeBron acting as a point guard on offense ensures that those extra 45 minutes per game don’t necessarily need to go to a pure point guard.

First and foremost, I’d expect all the starters’ minutes to increase as soon as the playoffs commence. As for who should start in Bradley’s absence? My first choice would be the aforementioned Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. As hard as I’ve been on him in years gone by, he’s an elite three-point shooter (39.6% for the season) and is a great off-ball fit alongside LeBron.

As mentioned in the previous slide, while his defensive numbers are surprisingly pedestrian on the season, he’s also still my first choice for defending point guards out of the remaining players.

Based on his familiarity with the system, I’d expect Alex Caruso to slide into a 20 MPG type reserve role for the playoffs. Aside from his occasional breathtaking highlight, Caruso does nothing spectacularly but also doesn’t do anything particularly poorly either. He’s fast becoming the type of role-player that’ll earn consistent minutes on a championship-contender.

In my opinion, the true wildcard is Dion Waiters.

Despite having a reputation as a bit of a malcontent, Waiters is the last active guard on the Lakers’ roster that has shown some penchant for ball movement. He’ll never be mistaken for LeBron James or even present-day Rajon Rondo, but in the three seasons between 2017-19, Waiters averaged almost 4 assists per game.

He’s also shown flashes as a shooter, hitting 37.7% and 39.5% of his threes in two of his past three seasons. Coupled with the fact that he’s surprisingly still only 28 years old, and Waiters is the type of risk that I’m glad the Lakers took.

I am worried about his reputation for horrific shot selection, but if he shows a willingness to pick his spots, a high work ethic, and an aptitude for grasping the playbook, I hope that Vogel overlooks his reputation and grants him a consistent rotation spot off the bench.

As for J.R. Smith, I wasn’t originally a fan of the signing. However, even in 10-15 minutes of action, he provides two things that none of the other Laker reserves can lay claim to: he’s been an elite outside shooter for his career and he has championship pedigree. In a reduced role, I think that Smith will provide plenty of value during a playoff run.

Based on his last season and a half of play, I no longer think that J.R. is quite good enough to be the first player off the bench. However, as mentioned previously in the article, Vogel loves his veterans, so will he realize this? A real concern is that Smith will be given 25-30 minutes a night based on who he used to be as a player, only to “reward” the team with atrocious play.

While I expect the front-court rotations and minutes to be allocated similarly to the regular season, there’s been so much change in the backcourt that it’s almost impossible to predict the combinations that Vogel will ultimately favor.

One major positive to almost having the #1 seed locked up, is that it gives Vogel the remainder of the regular season to figure out what pieces he has and experiment with back-court rotations.