Los Angeles Lakers: Who is the odd man out in the rotation?

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has some decisions to make about the rotation.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel has a problem on his hands. Admittedly, it’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem nonetheless.

The Lakers have 11 players worthy of being in the regular rotation. Yet all season long, Vogel typically used 10. When the season resumes Thursday, which one won’t make the cut?

Any discussion of Lakers’ personnel deservedly begins with Anthony Davis and LeBron James. They will continue to play major minutes, perhaps even an increase in the postseason from their regular-season averages of about 35 minutes per game.

The tag team of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard at center was effective all year long, and there’s no reason to expect that will change. Kyle Kuzma had an outstanding shooting game against Orlando.

If he can be a consistent scorer, he will continue to be an important part of the rotation. And Markieff Morris is a versatile power forward who at the very least provides toughness and defense.

That’s six players, presumably leaving four spots. Markdown Danny Green, a proven playoff performer, for one, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers’ most accurate three-point shooter this season, for another. The team always seems to play better with Alex Caruso on the court, so he should be part of the rotation too.

That apparently leaves newcomers Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith to compete for the rotation’s 10th spot. Yet both have played very well in the scrimmage games. Waiters has proven that he can create his own shot, something few other Lakers can do. Smith has shown that he can be one of the team’s best long-range shooters, another valuable asset.

So what will Vogel do?

Who will be the odd man out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ rotation?

The short-term answer is none of them will be, primarily because no decision has to be made yet. The Los Angeles Lakers hold a six-game lead in the loss column over the Clippers. With eight “seeding games” to play, their magic number is three.

Any combination of three Laker wins and Clipper losses and the Lakers clinch the best record in the Western Conference and the top seed in the playoffs.

Beyond that, since all games will be played in the Orlando bubble, home-court advantage doesn’t exist this postseason. So it makes no difference whether the Lakers catch Milwaukee for the best record in the NBA.

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Nobody realistically expects that the Lakers will only win two of their eight games while the Clippers go undefeated. It’s only a question of when, not if, the Lakers earn the top West seed.

That means Vogel can and undoubtedly will continue to experiment with different lineups over the next eight games. He can see which combination of players work best together before making any final decisions.

We’ll also probably even see guys like Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook here and there, and even end-of-the-bench players Talen Horton-Tucker, Kostas Antetokounmpo and Devontae Cacok might get some minutes.

But what happens once the postseason begins? Which player does Vogel leave out of the rotation then?

Vogel’s flexibility in his substitution patterns during the season gives us a clue. If someone played well when he first entered the game, he usually earned more time on the court. Conversely, if a player wasn’t particularly effective, he often received fewer minutes. We can expect Vogel to continue that practice.

Like many other coaches, he also substitutes situationally, depending on what the team needs in a particular game- better defense, more outside shooting, rebounding, ball movement or some spark. Match-ups dictate some playing time decisions too.

With all of this in mind, the expectation here is that he will use all 11 players. He probably won’t play everyone in every game, so it will not exactly be an 11-man rotation. But he will likely give minutes to each player often enough to keep him sharp. None of the 11 presumably will get buried deep on the bench.

Additional injuries would impact what Vogel does, as would be the case with any other team. Past playoff injuries to the likes of Laker stars James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Byron Scott and Karl Malone destroyed what seemed like pretty good opportunities to capture additional crowns.

In a normal season, many key players enter the playoffs nursing minor injuries incurred from the grind of an 82-game season. It’s a bit different this year since all players enter the postseason well-rested, but that doesn’t mean that some star on some team might not go down.

What about when Rajon Rondo returns? Who sits then?

Rajon Rondo is projected to be physically able to return to action during the second round of the playoffs. His ability to set up an offense, particularly when LeBron is resting, is his major strength. Shooting and defense are his two primary weaknesses.

Much will depend on how the Los Angeles Lakers performed in his absence. Specifically, it will be important to see how well the offense has operated when James is on the bench. If things aren’t clicking, then Rondo might help. But if the offense is humming along, he might not be needed on the court.

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The bottom line is that throughout these next eight games, and possibly even in at least the early rounds of the playoffs, all 11 players will be used. When Rondo returns, assuming no other player is out, then Vogel will have to choose which of 12 capable Lakers he will play. It’s too soon to know how he will deal with that much depth, but chances are he’s not complaining.