Probable Starting Unit
- PG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
- SG: Wesley Matthews
- SF: LeBron James
- PF: Anthony Davis
- C: Marc Gasol
During the playoffs, there was a lot of noise about how deadly the Lakers were with Anthony Davis at center; there was definite truth to that. The Lakers had tremendous success surrounding Anthony Davis and LeBron James with their three best shooters in Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Markieff Morris.
The Lakers small ball unit wasn’t their best five-man lineup. The Lakers’ starting five during the 2020 playoffs featuring Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Antony Davis, and JaVale McGee was not only the best for the purple and gold, but it also had the best plus rating in the NBA at a stellar +42 over 112 total minutes.
This offseason Rob Pelinka took the best five-man unit in last year’s playoffs, and he greatly improved upon it. Danny Green and JaVale McGee were part of the top five-man lineup in the NBA, but they were the weak links.
Danny Green lost a step on defense, and his jumper was off throughout the postseason.
JaVale McGee played solid defense, but he didn’t make a single outside shot, and his constant presence next to the rim during offensive possessions clogged up the lane for LBJ and AD.
Next season the Lakers will swap out one past-his-prime 3-and-D wing (Danny Green) for another past his prime 3-and-D wing in Wesley Matthews. Both players are on the wrong side of 30, but it seems that Matthews is aging better than Green.
Matthews finished last season ranked 2nd among all shooting guards in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus (2.88). At the same time, Danny Green finished 15th (1.14). Matthews and Green are both built to be premier perimeter defenders.
They’re strong enough to contain even the most muscular wings. The difference last year in their defense was that Green lost that extra gear needed to harass a hot perimeter player. Matthews, on the other hand, played at 110% throughout every game.
The Lakers will also feature Marc Gasol instead of JaVale McGee next season. JaVale McGee was a reliable starting center for the Lakers, but Marc Gasol, even at age 35, is better in almost every aspect.
On defense, their advance stats were similar. JaVale McGee had a 101 defensive rating and a 2.1 defensive box plus/minus. Marc Gasol finished the season with a 103 defensive rating and a 2.8 defensive box plus/minus.
JaVale McGee is the better shot blocker, but Marc Gasol’s ability to guard the best post-up specialists in the league in conjunction with his sublime basketball IQ makes “Big Burrito” the more reliable overall defender.
Marc Gasol’s offensive fit with the Lakers is much better than McGee’s. Gasol shot 39 percent from deep off of over three attempts per game, making him the perfect lane clearing center for LeBron James’s bull drives to the rim and Anthony Davis’s roll’s to the rack.
Gasol is also a passing wizard from the 5 spot. He ended last season with an uber-high 17 percent assist ratio, making him one of the best passing big men in the association.
With Marc Gasol in tow, the Lakers’ offense will improve dramatically while the defense should remain top 5 in the league.
Next season the Lakers should continue to feature Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the starting point guard position. The Purple and Gold went 17-2 (pre-bubble) during the regular season with KCP as the starting point guard, and they went 16-5 during the playoffs with the former Piston starting things off at the 1.
KCP’s struggled throughout his career playing the 2 because he’s too small to guard bulkier wings. However, Caldwell-Pope was an above-average defender when he played point guard. He used his tremendous energy and quick feet to bother the surplus of gifted 1’s Frank Vogel tasked him with guarding during the 2020 playoffs.
KCP’s not a playmaker, and he struggles to create by himself, so he’s a backup wing on every other squad in the NBA. The Lakers already have LeBron James, the best point forward ever, so Caldwell-Pope’s outside shooting and perimeter defense ideally fit this version of the Lakers.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis round out the Lakers starting unit. They’re the best duo in the NBA, and you could argue they are the two best players in the association. They are the engine that runs the Purple and Gold.
All-in-all, the combination of KCP, LBJ, AD with the additions of Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol should see the Lakers starting unit improve on both sides of the ball.