The trade deadline has come and gone and with that came not only a new Los Angeles Lakers team but a newfound hope in said team. LA was one of the big winners in the league in terms of what they were able to do at the deadline.
In all honesty to many Lakers faithful, it came across as highway robbery. Before the deadline madness, the team made the move for Rui Hachimura in exchange for Kendrick Nunn with the real altering of lineups coming on deadlines eve.
The purple and gold were able to offload one of their major liabilities in Russell Westbrook and in return were able to land prodigal son D’Angelo Russell, sharpshooter Malik Beasley, and my personal favorite, workhorse Jarred Vanderbilt. They had to also say farewell to Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones, who were buried down the bench; all-in-all the team got objectively much better.
Just how much better is still really yet to be seen. In the one game played with the new squad fully healthy they put quite a show on against the seventh-seeded Pelicans, where we saw quite possibly the best performance of the season outside of their earlier anomaly when the team beat the Bucks in Milwaukee. It was well-rounded from top to bottom with LeBron and AD playing well and the new additions playing to their strengths.
The change-up made not only Lakers supporters reconsider if the season could be saved, but the rest of sports media as well. Now it certainly will take a playoff push of epic proportions with the rest of their games this season coming against current playoff teams, but I think these lineups are more than ready for the task.
Who the Lakers starters should be:
The starting lineup consists of players who set the tone and establish dominance early on. There is no better way to do that than following the blueprint set forth by the many successful LeBron James lead teams in the past. Give him shooters and take the pressure off him on the defensive end allowing him to roam freely tallying up steals and blocks. Deploying the talents of D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, LeBron James, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Anthony Davis does exactly that.
This was the starting lineup we saw in the final game before the all-star break against New Orleans and it certainly paid dividends. They started the game on a 17-4 run. Tone established. D’Angelo Russell was 2/3 from 3pt range in the first, Beasley was 2/3 from the field and 1/2 from 3, and AD went 4/5. Shooting, resulting in creating space for LeBron established. With the team recording 2 steals, a block, and forcing 5 turnovers as well in the quarter, I’d say the defense was squared away as well.
They have size, shooting, and the ability to run the fastbreak or slow it down in the halfcourt while all being done with a refreshed team basketball IQ. It’s about as small of a sample size as you can get, but if they keep up on that pace or better yet gain continuity over time, the league may be in a bit of trouble. I had to throw in this no-look dime from D’Lo as well because…come on.
The Lakers bench unit:
Although this lineup is highly untested, as in they haven’t all been on the court together at the same time, it’s a squad that can give LeBron the opportunity to play only 29 minutes in a win similar to the New Orleans game.
A lineup of Dennis Schröder, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Wenyan Gabriel, and Mo Bamba has enough of everything to pick up the slack. You’d stay big down low and keep energy and intensity high with Wenyan and Bamba.
You’d retain shooting with Reaves, Rui, and Schröder (on some nights). Most importantly, you’d see this team compete at a high level on the defensive end, resulting in less net minus 10-15 stretches with LeBron on the bench.
Those players sharing the court would be one of the better bench units in at least the Western Conference, and that’s not even the best of it. There are still players like Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr, and rookie Max Christie who have all proven they are capable of playing 10-15 minutes a night still on the bench ready to be utilized if need be. The depth of this team now is quite surprising and I think it’s only right to give at the bare minimum a tip of the cap to Rob Pelinka.
Other variations for the Lakers:
As we all know, it’s not as easy as a 10-man rotation where the same players are constantly on the court with each other at all times. There is an ebb and flow to the game which always requires specific tweaking to who shares the court.
Rather than having a $47 million albatross of a contract looming over the books, resulting in a band of misfit minimum players around the two stars, the team can now deploy multiple looks with quality role players.
In the modern NBA, shooting is king, and typically when it rains heavily it comes in the form of fantastic guard play. You must have the ability to put forth some type of small-ball lineup on the court and the Lakers have a fantastic one to not only play but possibly close games with.
I’ll preface this lineup by saying this is the only acceptable 3 guard lineup moving forward Darvin. With D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Austin Reaves, LeBron James, and Rui Hachimura sharing the court, they provide shooting, quickness, and hold on to a bit of toughness down low with two big bodies in LeBron and Rui.
Is this team going to have the best defensive rating of the ones I’ve listed? Probably not. But, the ability to at least serviceably match up with the other team’s guards while scoring at a high clip is what we’d see from this squad. Having D’Lo, LeBron, and even Reaves with the ability to push the ball up the court
There is the off chance that a team feels they have the players and schemes to do damage in the paint. We have an answer for that too. The players the team has at its disposal can form one of the larger most physically dominant lineups in the league.
Putting out a big team of LeBron, Austin Reaves, Jarred Vanderbilt, Anthony Davis, and Mo Bamba gives you the smallest player standing 6’5 in Reaves with the rest 6’8 and up, and 4 of those players with a wingspan of over 7′. It is an imposing team that teams most certainly would find trouble scoring against.
In the playoffs basketball fans know rotations are cut to ten men, sometimes even nine, and one of the luxuries this team now has is the ability to throw out quite a few different combinations at teams. The Lakers seemingly have an answer for any lineup or group that gets hot, and after the past season and a half, it feels like a miracle.