Lakers preview: Will Gabe Vincent make a genuine difference?

Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

The point guard position has been a bit of a revolving door for the Los Angeles Lakers since LeBron James’ arrival in 2018. First, it was the Rajon Rondo/Lonzo Ball tag team. That experiment did not go according to plan. Then, it was LeBron manning the point guard position in the season following the acquisition of AD. This positional maneuver proved successful, as it yielded an NBA championship that season.

Prior to the following season’s title defense, the front office surprisingly traded for Dennis Schroder. Despite coming to LA following his greatest individual season as a sixth man, Schroder made it abundantly clear of his intent on starting at the point guard spot. His greediness came back to backfire, as the front office elected not to retain Dennis the Menace’s service and he was inevitably forced to take a minimum-level contract from the Boston Celtics before the 2021-2022 season. Once again, the team was in the market for a starting PG.

In the offseason of 2021, Rob Pelinka and co took a major gamble in their quest for continuity at the 1. On one hand, the swap that landed Russell Westbrook in LA seemed like a glitzy move. Russ is without a doubt a future Hall of Fame point guard, and the tenacity by which he plays the game of basketball can be infectious. On the other hand, it took three quality role players plus a 1st Round pick to get the deal done. With all of his explosiveness considered, was Westbrook really the answer at the Point for the Lakers?

Obviously, the answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. Who could have seen that failure coming? The answer to that question is a resounding “Anyone”.

Skipping ahead past all of the lows that came with Russ’s time manning the point guard position for the Lakers, the 2023 trade deadline may in fact turn out to be the time we recall the front office hitting a bullseye in its shot at locating their lost floor leader.

D’Angelo Russell probably hovers somewhere around the middle of the pack in terms of starting NBA point guards. His outside shot produces string music at a high clip, and his craftiness as a playmaker can be poetic at times. He may not have developed into a top-tier player thus far in his career, and he may never even truly be labeled as a true point guard.

However, D’Lo has always been a quality hooper who only further supported that billing after coming back to the Lakers earlier this year. He was the team’s best shooter and second-best playmaker (despite leading the team in assists per game after the trade) behind LeBron. It was unclear whether or not he would be back for another season with the squad, but re-signed at a reasonable rate at the end of the day. So at the still ripe age of 27, the Lakers have clearly solidified the future of the point guard position, right?

Wrong. Russell may have been solid in his second stint running the Lakeshow, but not solid enough to thwart off trade rumors. He might wind up cementing his spot with the organization if his positive performance persists throughout the upcoming campaign, but there is no denying that D’Lo would be among the top trade chips currently sporting a Laker uniform. If he does indeed get the boot during the season, his replacement in the backcourt may very well already be on the roster.

Gabe Vincent has joined the point guard revolving door on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gabe Vincent was a godsend for the Miami Heat in their run to the NBA Finals earlier this year. His defensive prowess is his calling card, and his offensive game has been steady since his start in the league a few years back. He may never fit the profile of an elite playmaker, but Vincent has the IQ to provide steady, mostly mistake-free minutes at the point to whichever team he plays for.

A coach can expect highly energetic, highly wise efforts on the defensive side of the court from him. His shooting numbers may not be the most beautiful, but his stroke is definitely a delight to the eyes.

If he can hit his outside shots at league average while sustaining his reputation on the defensive end and chipping in 3-4 assists per game, he could make a world of difference for the 2023-2024 Lakers. Think of his role with the Lakers this season as the role that Mario Chalmers had with the Heat during the Big 3 era in Miami.

A lot of people were sad to see Dennis Schroder go (again). On the flip side, his new contract with the Toronto Raptors seems like a bit of an overpay. His point-of-attack defense is no joke, and he developed a reputation as a pest that always seems willing to harass opposing ball-handlers full court.

The Lakers will undoubtedly miss Schroder on defense, but his offensive game just did not really mesh well with the superstars. He is a ball-dominant straight-line driver with a super streaky shooting stroke. His secondary playmaking was invaluable to the team all season long last year, and he provided a lot of relief to LeBron. He was a fine backup point guard for the team, but his price tag was a bit heftier than the Lakers’ front office was willing to stomach.

Most people were also very surprised when the team signed Vincent to assume Schroder’s role off the bench. Miami’s surge to the finals was the platform Vincent needed to springboard his career. Unknown to most casual NBA viewers, Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics was his official coming out party:

That type of offensive output is not out of the question for Vincent. Expecting him to produce 20-30 points per night is asking far too much, but this is a Laker team already equipped with numerous bucket sources. His role with the team should be quite similar to the role he had with the Heat last season: anchor the point of attack perimeter defense, hit outside shots at a respectable clip, and provide a bit of playmaking support to guys like Bron, D’Lo, and Austin Reaves.

He was able to earn the trust of future Hall of Famer Jimmy Butler during his time in Miami. Now, it is time for Vincent to earn the trust of future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles.

If he can successfully do so, he could feasibly supplant D’Angelo Russell as the team’s starting point guard even without his co-PG’s potential trade. D’Lo might be the current favorite to start this season, but he should comprehend that he has a more than capable replacement already sharing the same locker room.

As the season goes on, it will be interesting to see how the point guard minutes are divided. If Russell is not hitting his shots, it probably will not take long for Vincent to earn his job. However, Vincent has to hit his shots as well, as his defense can only keep him on the floor for so long (just ask Jarred Vanderbilt).

The start of the season is just the start of this impending point guard race, and it should be a season-long competition. We could see D’Angelo starting in most matchups, but could also see Darvin Ham pivot to the more defensive-minded Vincent against opponents such as the Warriors, Grizzlies, and other teams with the game’s top point guards/perimeter threats.

Russell’s offensive sauce mixed with Vincent’s defensive intelligence provides the Lakers with a nice blend of options at the point guard position. The two will work against each other to earn the starting job, but will also work together to hold down the overall point guard seat.

Each of these guys’ performance will play a large part in determining the success of the upcoming season, and Vincent, in particular, could prove to be a major difference maker for the Lakers as we look ahead to the 2023-2024 NBA season.

Next. 22 players the Lakers gave up on too early. dark