Filling the Constellations Around the Lakers’ Stars
The Los Angeles Lakers have fans hyped for the 2019-20 season of basketball.
The team has two top-10 players in its core for the first time since the end of the Kobe-Shaq era. Now, with a pretty strong supporting cast surrounding King James and Anthony Davis, the team will look to hang its 17th banner.
How will they get there? Frank Vogel and his All-Star coaching staff have nearly a month and six preseason games to figure out pieces, chemistry and fit. What is looking like a dogfight of regular season in the Western Conference will try any team, but especially one so dependent on its superstars.
If the season started today, the five out on the floor would undoubtedly be LeBron James, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Anthony Davis and Javale McGee. This is a compelling lineup on both sides of the court. If the offense stays hot, the team won’t need to go small in order to keep up with the high-powered backcourts in the West -- Curry/Russell, Lillard/McCollum, Westbrook/Harden. But while these premier bigger players may lose some speed battles on the defensive end, opposing guards will find difficulty getting to the hoop when the second shortest Lakers’ starter is 6’9” LeBron James.
An older core is going to need a lot of minutes filled throughout the season, though. Who will take the lion’s share?
Prince Caruso and King James could be the duo we don’t know we need. Caruso has shown major flashes in his passing, shooting and dunking. Now, with the Bald Mamba bulking up to the point of getting a random drug test from Commissioner Adam Silver, Caruso could easily be a major part of the rotation with his 48% 3-point shooting and basketball IQ. If the Lakers move some starters to add another guard into the rotation he will be a candidate to take the starting point guard slot.
Best Lineup With Caruso: James, Davis, Green, Kuzma.
One of the most competitive players on the team, Rondo will ideally fill some solid minutes with James off the floor. Rondo is still one of the best passers on the team and can still be dangerous when driving, especially if he’s playing against overmatched second units. Look for him to easily ‘get his’ and have another 9-5-8 year. The notoriously scoring-averse distributor will feel at home surrounded by so many primary shooters.
Best Lineup with Rondo: Green, Kuzma, McGee, Davis.
After being traded from the Clippers late last season, Bradley had a few solid outings in some garbage games for Memphis: with a larger role, Bradley put up 16 points a night while shooting over 46%. A smaller but solid defender, Bradley will likely be in games to hound opposing guards alongside or replacing Green, but effective outings in this role could land him a larger role.
Best (Defensive) Lineup with Bradley: Green, James, Davis, Caldwell-Pope.
After starting off the 2017-18 campaign looking like the surprise signing of the summer, KCP’s 2018-19 was streaky at best. There’s no doubt Pope can play, but he’s best in small doses. Coming off the bench, Pope should attract less-skilled defensive assignments, which he can parlay into respectable bumps in his defensive stats and 3-point shooting. Pope will likely be a regular face in the rotation -- especially when the squad goes small.
Best Lineup with Pope: Green, Bradley, Rondo, James.
While his best days in Phoenix are long behind him, the 34-year-old may have a small role in the rotation when the team needs an extra shooter. Dudley still performed well in 20 minutes a game for Brooklyn last season, shooting fairly well even if he notched less than five points a game. As one of the bench’s last options, Dudley may find himself as a moderately overqualified 10th man, so he could pop every once in a while when he gets open looks and hits. He’ll also be very effective in Twitter-beefing opponents, but if Ben Simmons really does have a jumper now, Dudley can happily sit out against Philadelphia.
Most likely lineup with Dudley: Caruso, Green, Kuzma, James.
Last but certainly not least is the most interesting story of the offseason. Howard had a decent handful of games before suffering a season-ending injury last season. The year prior, the three-time DPOY had a decent comeback season with Charlotte, putting up a 16-12 with 1.6 blocks in 81 games started. If the former Superman can even hint at what he once was, he will be an absolute nightmare coming off the bench. Alongside Rondo, James, and Caruso, Howard has the chance to thrive in his return to Los Angeles.
Most likely lineup with Howard: Rondo/James, Caruso, Green, Kuzma.