As we close in on the halfway mark of the 2015-16 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers still have yet to pick up their 10th victory. Any playoff hopes, faint as they were at the beginning of the season, are surely gone now.
That being said, there is still a lot to play for for the Lakers this year. The team has a number of young players trying to develop, but with Kobe Bryant on his farewell tour, he is obviously a major focal point of the team as well, as general manager Mitch Kupchak recently pointed out.
Some players are finding it difficult to get minutes, some in the rotation could have a bigger role, while others could be scaled back some. Managing the rotation is a very difficult job, but it is pretty clear that some changes should be in store for the Lakers.
So we asked our panel of experts which changes they would make to the starting lineup and overall rotation. This is what they had to say:
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): One of the biggest moves I was hoping for has actually happened recently as rookie Anthony Brown has been inserted into the rotation. Brown is clearly the team’s best perimeter defender and getting him minutes needs to be a priority.
Other than that, there are two things I would like to see. The first is a return to the starting lineup for D’Angelo Russell. He has responded well to his demotion to the bench and shown plenty of growth recently. He has earned his spot with the starters and it would do him well to see an increase in minutes, especially with Jordan Clarkson so the two can improve their chemistry together.
The other thing I would like to see is Byron Scott experiment with lineups involving both Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle. Nance has played well recently and Randle has struggled so I’m not sure I’d want to see Randle replace him in the starting lineup, but I would like to see them get some minutes together.
Many would prefer seeing them in a ‘small-ball’ lineup, but I would actually prefer them to occupy both forward spots. Nance has the ability to guard small forwards and has flashed a pretty consistent outside shot. Also, having both out there with a third big man could help the team’s rebounding issues.
There are definitely other things that could and arguably should happen, but these are the things that are most important in my opinion.
Nathaniel Lastrapes (@NathanielP2): The first and very most important lineup change that needs to happen is Lou Williams back to the bench and D’Angelo Russell back into the starting lineup.
Russell has proven that he has earned the starting point guard role even during his senseless minute restriction placed on him by Byron Scott. The No. 2 overall pick should be playing more than the 25 minutes per game that he has averaged since his move to the bench. Russell should be getting the bulk of the minutes from former Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams.
It irks me when I see Lou hoisting up shots whenever he catches the ball, instead of Russell out there distributing the ball on offense. Lou can still be productive coming off the bench, but Russell has earned a starting spot and should be getting as many minutes as possible.
The next move I would like to see is Roy Hibbert to the bench and Julius Randle returning to the starting lineup. Hibbert has been in the starting lineup because he is a defensive anchor, but let’s face it; the Lakers defense has been horrific even with him on the floor.
Scott has not been shy to employ a small ball lineup with Bass and Kelly/Randle, so he should start his two most productive big men: Randle and Nance Jr. It would not hurt to at least give it a try since the Lakers have been awful even after Scott demoted Russell and Randle to the bench.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): The Lakers are struggling this season, and Coach Byron Scott’s lineups are certainly not the only problem. However, with the playoffs already a lost cause, the team needs to focus most of their efforts on developing the young players, which should also give them the greatest chance of retaining their draft pick this summer.
There is some precedent here. It was January of last year when seldom used rookie Jordan Clarkson was surprisingly thrust into the starting lineup, and the youth movement is picking up steam this year as well. Against the Kings we saw second round pick Anthony Brown steal Nick Young’s minutes as the team’s backup small forward. While Brown wasn’t very productive (0 points, 2 rebounds in 17 minutes), it was still a necessary step in order for him to develop as a player, and he should continue to get minutes.
I would also like to see D’Angelo Russell reinserted into the starting lineup in place of Lou Williams, as Russell needs time to gel with Clarkson and Lou William’s defensive struggles are more easily hidden when he is matched up with opposing bench players. It’s also worthwhile to see whether a Randle/Nance front line can work, which could be explored by allowing one of them to play center rather than tag teaming the power forward position.
Lastly, I think Tarik Black needs a chance to show what he can do. He posted solid numbers last year but has been stuck on the bench for most of the season. There is a minutes crunch, as Randle, Nance, Bass, and Hibbert all need time, but even carving out 10 minutes a game for Tarik could pay dividends.
Alan Huerta (@Alan_Huerta24): I think it’s safe to say that D’Angelo Russell needs to be reinstated into the starting lineup for the Lakers. He may have had a slow start to begin the season, but since being moved to the bench Russell is starting to show why he was selected No. 2 overall in last summer’s draft.
Not only have his numbers improved, currently averaging 12.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, but he also looks a lot more comfortable out on the floor 38 games into the season. Only time will tell how high his ceiling can actually be in the NBA, but that starts with getting back into the starting lineup to develop with the rest of the Lakers’ young core.
Another player I went to see get some minutes is center Tarik Black. Let’s face it, Roy Hibbert isn’t turning out to be the asset we thought he’d be this season. With that said, why not give Black (who plays hard and doesn’t need plays set up for him) a shot to prove himself along with the rest of the young kids?
Although he isn’t the most skilled big man, he’s only in his second season in the league and still has a lot to improve on. Just like with any other player, nothing helps them improve like game experience. This is a lost season dedicated to Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour, so we might as well let the youth develop and rebuild for the future.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): To be honest, much like last year, I’m not sure we can expect to see a “set” rotation until the second half of the season. While many fans and analysts alike have been somewhat confused by the rotations and questionable substitution patterns throughout the first 30 (or so) games, it appears as though the coaching staff has been given the unenviable task of trying to “serve two masters” when it comes to their overall strategy.
GM Mitch Kupchak all but acknowledged this fact when he admitted the team’s focus has shifted from mainly targeting the development of the young core to also wanting to gracefully and respectfully send a retiring Kobe Bryant off into the proverbial basketball sunset.
While I may question why this reality wasn’t always something they anticipated and even planned for, this explanation at least helps to make some sense of things. Regardless of what they acknowledge publicly, I think part of the recent decision to feature the veterans like Lou Williams and even Brandon Bass more often is with testing out the trade market over the next 6 weeks (trade deadline is February 19) in mind.
That isn’t to guarantee those two players (or any others) are headed out of town, but it certainly wouldn’t be the worst of ideas to explore the market in an effort to see if any additional picks or future assets can be added as playoff-bound and hopeful teams look to bolster their rotations for the home stretch of the season and postseason action.
Once we are past that deadline, I’d like to at least see what the lineup of pairing Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle in the frontcourt alongside Kobe Bryant, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell can do over certain stretches against other small-ball rotations. Beyond that, while I’d love to also see if second-year big man Tarik Black could potentially build upon what was a nice second half of last season followed by a strong summer training regimen, I think the rotation will simply work itself out over the final 40+ games.