Los Angeles Lakers: What Should Be Their Starting Five?
By Tashan Reed: Staff Writer @ Hoopstuff…
Finding something good to talk about the Lakers’ 2014 season is a hard task, why? Because it was the worst in franchise history. Once again, they were plagued by injuries – most notably to Kobe Bryant who played in only 6 games. They had a 27-55 record and had the 2nd worst defense in the league, with many of their losses coming in blowout fashion, disgusting longtime Lakers’ fans nationwide. Fans, the players, and the organization all want to just wipe last season from their memory completely, and focus on improving in the future. With almost $30 million in cap space this summer, the Lakers tried to accelerate their rebuild by going after Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. Signing either seemed farfetched, and although they were reportedly in the last three remaining teams for Carmelo Anthony, he stayed in NYC. After missing out on these two the Lakers essentially gave up on this year’s free agency class, opting to bring back players who were on the roster last year instead. They also traded for Jeremy Lin and a future 1st round pick, while signing serviceable players like Ed Davis and Carlos Boozer to bargain deals worth far less than their true value. Through the draft, they added Kentucky star Julius Randle and Mizzou standout Jordan Clarkson. Just recently they found their new coach in Byron Scott on a 4 year, $17 million deal with a team option for the last year. He’s already preaching a new motto of “defense first” and is intent on making sure that the Lakers are competitive this upcoming year. While the odds are stacked against them in a loaded Western Conference, if they remain healthy, the Lakers have a chance to sneak into that 7th or 8th seed spot.
PG: Jeremy Lin
- Lin’s play declined last year, and it led to him seeing the bench behind the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley, but he’s still the best option here for the Lakers. They simply can’t rely on Steve Nash to be healthy anymore, and if you need any proof for that, just look at his 2 Laker seasons. Nash missed 99 of the last 164 games, and at this point looks like a guy just continuing to play for the money. In his career, Lin has been a score-first point guard, and playing next to Kobe Bryant, he’ll have to alter that mentality somewhat. He’s flashed his ability to distribute before, averaging about 7 assists per 36 minutes in the 2013 season, but he dropped to only 5 assists per 36 last year. He has to prioritize being more of a pure point guard, and focus more on distributing the ball rather than getting for his own shot.
SG: Kobe Bryant
- Will Kobe ever be the same player? To be honest, that’s a question that I never would’ve thought that I’d have to answer regarding Kobe Bryant. But we live in reality, and that question is brutally valid. Kobe’s body has been plagued with injuries to say the least over the last two years, starting with minor injuries during the 2013 season and ending in a torn Achilles. He came back briefly this year, before fracturing his knee – an injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season. Kobe has already said that he’s ready and that his body is 100%, he’s in shape and currently at playing weight. Although at 35 years old and with 18 years logged in the NBA, there’s natural uncertainty to whether or not his body will hold up. If it does, however, Kobe will once again be the best shooting guard in the game. In his last partially healthy season, Bryant put up 27 points, 6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game on 46.3% shooting from the field – his best percentage in years. While Kobe may not be as explosive or athletic, his skill set is still unmatched. His deadly jumper, ability to finish at the rim, creativity in the paint, and footwork still makes him as difficult a player to defend as anyone in the league.
SF: Xavier Henry
- Nick Young is the best small forward on the Lakers’ roster, but the best position for him is a 6th man coming off the bench, a la Jamal Crawford. He’ll likely receive more minutes than the starting SF for the Lakers, but Los Angeles will start each game with someone else on the floor. There are two options here, Wesley Johnson or Xavier Henry, but based off of last season, Henry should be the choice. Henry averaged 10 ppg, and even exploded for several 20 point performances that raised eyebrows and got Lakers’ fans excited about his potential. With more minutes, and more games to play in (he only appeared in 43 last season), his game should only get better and better. Henry will give the Lakers solid defense on the wing, athletic finishes at the rim, and decent mid range and three point shooting.
PF: Carlos Boozer
- Most Lakers’ fans will want to see Julius Randle start here (I am one of them) but at this point, Boozer is better suited for the spot. In his interview that introduced him officially to the team, Boozer said that he expects to be the starting PF when the season begins. As a 12 year NBA veteran, Boozer certainly has seniority over a rookie in Julius Randle, and an old-school coach like Byron Scott will likely take that into consideration when making his decision. Even with his diminished athleticism and speed, Boozer is extremely strong and uses that to continue to be a very capable rebounder. He managed to average 8.3 rpg for the Bulls last year, and still scored 14 points per game as well. Boozer has a consistent face-up game and mid range jumper that will help to space the floor, but he also has the ability to post up and bang in the paint as well. Boozer’s versatility offensively shouldn’t be contested; it’s his defense that’s the issue. He’s really bad defensively and will have to give his best effort to improve on that this season if he wants to remain in the starting five.
C: Jordan Hill
- Per 36 minutes, Jordan Hill was a beast last season putting up 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game on 55% shooting from the field. Hill plays with admirable effort and is relentless on the boards, and also has the ability to extend multiple possessions, as he averaged nearly 5 offensive rebounds per night (per 36) last season. Hill has never played starters’ minutes for an entire season, and so his stamina and durability will be thoroughly tested, but if he can fight through it his production will be incredibly beneficial to the Lakers in their effort to make it to the playoffs.
Bench: Barring injury, the Lakers backup backcourt will feature Steve Nash and rookie Jordan Clarkson. If Nash gets hurt, then the Lakers’ could slide Clarkson over to the PG spot, which he played while attending college at Mizzou. Or if they feel Clarkson isn’t ready yet, then they can take Clarkson out entirely and move Nick Young to the SG position. Let’s go with my initial prediction while forming the rest of the bench, though. Swaggy P will play SF, and should easily be among the better scoring 6th men in the league. With Carlos Boozer starting, Julius Randle would play backup power forward, and honestly will probably struggle to put up numbers that are all that impressive with limited minutes. His game is a little raw, and he relies heavily on his brute strength to score in the paint. Not being thrust into the spotlight may be best for him, however, as it’ll allow him to quietly develop and improve. The mentoring of a veteran like Boozer will only help him. Randle still needs to develop a consistent mid range jumper as well as a few moves in the paint, two things that Boozer has excelled at throughout his career. The Lakers could go with either Ed Davis or Robert Sacre at the backup center spot, but personally I’d prefer Ed Davis. Per 36 minutes, Davis is a better scorer and rebounder than Sacre, and averaged the same amount of blocks as Sacre despite being 2 inches shorter. He’s also more athletic than Sacre, and has more potential. Outside of Steve Nash, the Lakers will have a young bench filled to the brim with athleticism and potential.