After a strong offseason that saw the Los Angeles Lakers bring back last year’s Western Conference Finals core, the focus has mostly turned to the 2023-24 season and how head coach Darvin Ham can utilize his immense pool of talent.
There are several questions surrounding the starting lineup that fans have following free agency. Starting point guard is up for grabs between D’Angelo Russell and Gabe Vincent, although the Lakers may simply give it to Russell to avoid him checking out, which the team was reportedly worried about in the NBA Playoffs.
There is also a debate between Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura in the starting five. Vanderbilt started in the playoffs but Hachimura played more off the bench. Does Ham make the switch and move Vando to the bench in favor of the $51 million man?
The actual answer might be that both players are on the bench. According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic (subscription required), the Lakers are confident in Jaxson Hayes‘ ability to start and play a prominent role next to Anthony Davis in a lineup with two bigs.
Jaxson Hayes being in the Lakers starting lineup is a disaster waiting to happen.
This is not a knock on Hayes or his potential that Los Angeles might be able to tap into. Hayes is a promising young player that could end up being a fantastic athletic shot-blocker for the team. But that should be happening off the bench.
In today’s NBA it is really hard to play two bigs who cannot space the floor for long stretches of minutes. One of the biggest issues with last year’s team before the trade deadline was the lack of floor spacing and how crowded the paint was, which directly hurts LeBron James and Davis.
Sure, the Lakers would also have D’Lo and Austin Reaves in the starting lineup to provide some shooting but Hayes and AD would be redundant and would clog the paint. Unless the plan is to spare AD out more and work on his jumper but as we have seen the last two years, that simply has not worked.
There is also a trickle-down effect on LeBron defensively that is worth mentioning. LeBron is at a stage in his career where he needs to coast in the regular season and allowing him to defend the four helps that cause. Having AD and Hayes in the same lineup is going to force LeBron out to the perimeter more on ball screens. That is exactly what the Lakers should be avoiding.
Does this mean Hayes and Davis can’t play together at all? No. But Hachimura has earned a spot in the starting five because of his ability to space the floor while also still giving the Lakers size. There is value in playing Davis and Hayes together, especially if they stagger it with LeBron, but they should not be starting.
If this is the route the Lakers take, it won’t be long until Hayes is out of the starting lineup.