Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka had a fabulous offseason. And because of the players he signed, the team now boasts the deepest roster in Lakers franchise history.
The depth of the team will pay dividends in three distinct ways:
- Injury Survival– The Lakers have more offensive weapons than they’ve had in decades. That means they are better equipped to survive and continue to win this season even when LeBron James and Anthony Davis miss their customary 20 games or so to injury.
- Star Preservation– Darvin Ham now has the luxury of limiting LeBron to just 28-30 minutes a game in an effort to preserve him for the postseason. To a lesser extent, he can also keep AD’s minutes down.
- Flexibility and Versatility– The deep, talented roster provides Ham various options regarding who to play. He can mix and match player combinations in contrasting ways against different kinds of opponents. At times he can go with a big front line and at others he can go small.
Let’s take a closer look. Although it is often said that the modern NBA is “positionless”, let’s still use traditional positions to highlight Laker depth.
Breaking down the deepest Lakers roster ever:
Point Guard: D’Angelo Russell has been named the starting point guard and will be out to prove that his performance in last season’s Western Conference Finals was an aberration from his normal effectiveness.
In his 17 regular season games with the club, he averaged 17 points while leading the team during that period in assists, 6.1, and three-point percentage, 41%. He hopes and expects to approach those numbers again this season, especially now that he will have spent a training camp with his teammates.
His primary backup will be newcomer Gabe Vincent. He averaged 9 points and 2.5 assists, mostly off the bench, for Miami last season, then excelled against Milwaukee and Boston in the playoffs when his role increased due to injuries.
The third-string PG will ostensibly be draft pick Jalen Hood-Schifino. But in reality, JHS will likely spend most of this season in the G League. If and when a third PG is needed, Ham will undoubtedly turn to either Austin Reaves, who played PG in college, or James, who has effectively played PG by setting up his team’s offense his entire career.
Shooting Guard: To the surprise of no one who watched him steadily improve as last season progressed, Reaves will be the starting 2-guard. For the season he averaged 13 points and shot 40% from behind the arc. In the playoffs, his numbers increased to 17 and 44%. After playing a significant role over the summer for Team USA, much is expected from Reaves this season.
Second-year player Max Christie, who is only age 20, will be given an opportunity to be the main backup at the 2-guard. Christie shot well (42% from deep and nearly 88% from the free throw line) in limited time during his rookie year, and shined on the Lakers Summer League team. He could be ready to make a splash at the varsity level.
Cam Reddish, age 24 and a former top 10 pick, is another candidate. Reddish has played for three teams in his somewhat disappointing four-year NBA career. His overall three-point shooting percentage of just 32% is especially low.
Last season Reddish showed well in his 20 games with Portland, averaging 11 PPG. He has the look of a good NBA player, and perhaps this will be his breakout season. At 6-8 he is listed as a small forward, but his ability to play two positions while performing closer to his perceived potential could earn him expanded minutes.
It is also possible that two-way signee D’Moi Hodge, who will soon turn age 25, showed in the Summer League that he may be ready to contribute as a three-and-D 2-guard.
Small Forward: Ham can choose from a number of different options. He may pick Jarred Vanderbilt, 6-9, to start because he’s the team’s best perimeter defender. That has the added benefit of allowing James to guard a weaker opponent and not have to chase a SF around the perimeter.
Vando also spent much of his offseason working on his shot. If he improves his percentage on wide-open corner 3’s, he will be even more valuable.
Another possibility is 6-8 Rui Hachimura, who had a fabulous postseason for the Lakers last season, shooting 56% from the field, 49% on 3’s and 88% on free throws while playing primarily power forward.
The word is that he trained hard this summer, often with LeBron, and is ready to divide his time between both forward positions. He may be most valuable as a prime-time player off the bench.
Free agent signee Taurean Prince, 6-7, is also in the mix. The seven-year veteran is a career 37% shooter from deep and plays good defense. Reddish is also an option. So, of course, is LeBron James.
Power Forward/Center: We’ve all heard that AD wants to reduce the minutes he plays at center. But the NBA has changed. The league has few dominant big bangers. Yes, there’s 6-11, 284-pound Nikola Jokic, but he has skills well beyond his size, and nobody on the planet can shut him down.
Assigning a position to a player is an inexact science. For most of his career, LeBron was listed as a small forward. For the Lakers 2020 title team, he was called a point guard. In the 2021-22 season, he was labeled a center, and last season a power forward. And throughout that time he played the same style he always has.
In reality, whether Davis is designated as a power forward or a center matters little. Chances are this season that James and Davis will start at the 4 and 5 positions and will demonstrate the team’s versatility as Ham moves both around. Meanwhile, the team’s other bigs this season are intriguing.
This summer Pelinka chose not to add any of several available big-bodied free-agent centers. Instead, early in July, he signed Jaxson Hayes, a 6-11, 220-pound jumping jack who is reminiscent of a young JaVale McGee, excelling at converting lob passes. The hope is that at age 23 he will also learn to harness his athleticism to become a better rebounder and shot-blocker.
And of course, most the Lakers recently added 6-10 Christian Wood. Although he could end up a starter, the more likely scenario is that he is used as a big-time scorer off the bench in a role similar to what Bob McAdoo played for the 1982 title team.
Wood has all the tools offensively. For his career, he’s averaged 15 points and shot 38% on 3’s. The hope is the Lakers can get him to be more focused, especially on defense, and willing to be more of an all-around contributor to a winning team.
In addition, two-way signee Colin Castleton, 6-11 and 250, showed this summer that he might be able to help the team this season when injuries mount and a big body is needed.
Lakers roster depth can also be demonstrated by skills:
Scoring– Davis, James, Reaves, Russell, Hachimura and Wood should all average double figures
Three-Point Shooting– Russell, Vincent, Reaves, Hachimura, Christie, Wood, Prince and Hodge
Playmaking– LeBron, Russell, Vincent and Reaves
Rebounding– AD, James, Wood, Vanderbilt, Hayes and Castleton
Defense– Vanderbilt and Davis, two of the NBA’s best at their positions
All the roster pieces add up to this:
Nine different Lakers (Davis, Hachimura, James, Prince, Reaves, Reddish, Russell, Vincent and Wood) averaged at least 9 PPG last season. A 10th player, Christie, averaged 21 points in the Summer League and 14 last year in the G League. And two other players, Hayes and Vanderbilt, provide complementary skill sets.
That’s 12-deep! And of those 12 players, only LeBron, turning 39, and AD, 30, are in their thirties. If you include Castleton and Hodge, 11 Lakers are between ages 23 and 28.
Furthermore, Christie, rookies Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis and two-way player Alex Fudge are all ages 20 or 21. So the roster for the most part is young and energetic.
But is it truly the deepest the storied Lakers franchise has ever had? Let’s compare it to teams in other eras.
The 1960s Elgin Baylor-Jerry West Laker teams typically had 7-8, maybe 9 quality players.
The 1971-72 team that won 33 straight games and the first LA title had a valuable sub in Flynn Robinson. Pat Riley and John Q. Trapp also contributed a bit off the bench, as did Leroy Ellis occasionally. Keith Erickson was limited by injury to just 15 games. So as good as that squad was, it was not as deep as the current one.
What about the Showtime Lakers? The 1982-83 team had a terrific bench featuring Michael Cooper, James Worthy and McAdoo as well as Mike McGee, but it only went about 9 deep.
How about the 1986-87 team, which won 65 games and the NBA title, and is considered by many to be the best Lakers team ever? That squad subbed in Cooper, Mychal Thompson and Kurt Rambis, and had minor contributions from Billy Thompson and Wes Matthews. If you stretch it, you can say they went 10-deep.
The 1999-2000 Shaq/Kobe team also had 10 quality players (Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Ty Lue and Brian Shaw off the bench). The same was true of the two Kobe/Gasol title teams of 2009 and 2010. And a couple of teams in the early 90’s also went 10-deep.
But no Laker team of any era was stacked with 12 quality players… until this one.
Ham will be challenged to find playing time for everyone and keep the whole squad happy. At most, he’ll employ a 10-man rotation that he’ll tweak as appropriate.
It helps that the team is starting out with good chemistry. A winning record will certainly be a positive factor. It’s also a long season and injuries are bound to happen, so the team’s depth will be a plus.
Overall, having the deepest team in Lakers history is the kind of problem Ham probably won’t mind having.