While it may not have been the changes some fans were hoping for (Russell Westbrook is still on the roster), the Lakers are going into the 2022-23 season with a brand new coaching staff and only six returning players.
With a roster that’s full of guards and lacking on the wing, head coach Darvin Ham will have his work cut out for him when it comes to putting together a starting lineup and rotations.
Outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who will obviously be starting if they are healthy, nothing is set in stone for Ham and L.A.
Let’s start at the guard position, where the Lakers have the biggest log jam and will have about seven players battling for two spots.
Westbrook is obviously the biggest question mark here as the last time he wasn’t an NBA starter was the first half of his rookie season. After a down year in 2021-22 though, is Westbrook starting the best option for the Lakers?
There have been recent reports that Ham is considering bringing Westbrook off the bench, and I think it would be a good move for L.A.
It’s no secret that Westbrook can’t shoot, and considering he hasn’t been a plus defender in years, his fit next to James and Davis isn’t ideal. That doesn’t mean that Westbrook can’t play a key role on the Lakers if he is on the roster though.
If Westbrook is willing to accept a sixth-man role (big if), I think coming off the bench and running the second unit (while also playing some minutes with James and Davis) can work. Westbrook would be able to be himself, playing more with the ball in his hands, and he would be playing more minutes against opposing second units, which are typically weaker than starting units.
So if Westbrook is coming off the bench, then that still leaves two starting spots up for grabs that I think should go to Patrick Beverley and Austin Reaves.
The reason I have those two over other options like Dennis Schroder, Lonnie Walker IV and Kendrick Nunn is defense. Ham has made it clear that he wants the Lakers’ identity to be on the defensive end, and I think Beverley and Reaves would be their best defensive backcourt.
Shooting would still be a bit of a concern (it will be with any backcourt iteration), but I would bet on Beverley improving on his 34.3 3-point percentage from last season (his career 3-point percentage is 37.8). I would also bet on Reaves making strides after a rough rookie season in that department.
Reaves vs. Schroder is a legitimate toss-up for me, but I gave the nod to the former due to his size after putting on 10 pounds of muscle this summer.
I’m not gonna spend a whole lot of time here considering James and Davis have these spots locked up.
One question worth posing though is should the Lakers start Davis at center?
But I think the answer here is no.
Davis will surely play a lot of time at center throughout the season, particularly to close games. But the Lakers don’t really have any bigger wings worth starting to slide Davis over to center and still be okay both defensively and on the glass.
The starting center battle is between Thomas Bryant and Damian Jones.
Both are quality options that will bring youthful energy and length to the Lakers defensively.
Jones is more of an athletic, rim-running center, which the Lakers have found success with in the past with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard alongside Davis.
Bryant can be a floor-stretcher who can knock down some shots from deep though, which would allow Davis to man the paint offensively with more space. For that reason, I am leaning towards Bryant being the Lakers’ starting center
Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Patrick Beverly
SF: Lonnie Walker
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis
PG: Dennis Schroder, Scotty Pippen Jr.
SG: Kendrick Nunn, Lonnie Walker IV, Max Christie
SF: Juan Toscano-Anderson, Troy Brown Jr.
PF: Wenyen Gabriel, Cole Swider
C: Damian Jones