After winning their first title in a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers are set on repeating as champions. Several trades and free agent signings later, Rob Pelinka and the front office were able to surround reigning Finals MVP LeBron James and All-Star big man Anthony Davis with more talent and emerged as one of the biggest winners this offseason.
Despite parting ways with players like Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, and Avery Bradley, who had important roles for the team, the Lakers were able to bring Dennis Schröder, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Alfonso McKinnie on board. Moreover, Los Angeles was also able to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris, who played key roles during their title run.
But one challenge that head coach Frank Vogel and the coaching staff will face next season is selecting the players who will start for the team. Schröder, who was traded to the Lakers from the Oklahoma City Thunder and was a backup for Chris Paul last season, already touched on the topic when he spoke about his potential role for the Lakers in a video conference with reporters.
“I did this off-the-bench stuff already in two years with OKC. I think I try to move forward, and I think with [Anthony Davis] and LeBron, I can be helpful as a starter in the PG position.”
Schröder, who averaged 18.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and four assists while shooting 46.9% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc with the Thunder last season, was a runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award next to Harrell, now his teammate with the Lakers. But while the 27-year-old believes he should play next to James and Davis, the Lakers’ starting lineup, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, is not yet set in stone, and he could still be asked to come off the bench.
With the Lakers lacking a traditional point guard in their starting lineups last season, it was James who became the team’s primary ball handler, averaging a career-best 10.2 assists, which also led the league. Putting Schröder in the starting lineup relieves the four-time MVP of some of that burden while allowing him to play off the ball and focus on scoring, since he averaged just 25.3 points last season, which was a slight drop-off from his first season in Los Angeles.
The Lakers’ most used starting lineup last season, per Lineups.com, was LeBron James, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee, which Vogel used in 31 regular-season games, followed by a lineup that replaced Bradley with Caldwell-Pope, which they trotted out in 18 games. If Vogel chooses to put another ball handler next to James and place another center alongside Davis, then the Lakers’ starting lineup will likely be composed of Schröder, Caldwell-Pope, James, Davis, and Gasol.
Schröder and James will likely share ball handling duties in this lineup, while Caldwell-Pope plays the role that Green had, with Gasol taking McGee’s place. Gasol, unlike a traditional center like McGee or Howard, can shoot from outside, which should give James and Davis more space. In this case, Matthews, Harrell, Morris, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso will be the team’s reserves, which should give the Lakers bench more firepower after their reserves averaged 39.3 points per game last season, which ranked 11th in the NBA.
The only question about this lineup is whether Vogel and the staff would want to abandon the strategy of having James as the team’s primary ball handler, which worked well last season, or move in a different direction. As good as he looked in Year 17, James will turn 36 later this month, so it is understandable to have Schröder to share point guard duties with him in the starting lineup.
Vogel, however, hasn’t been shy about tinkering with the team’s starting lineups over the course of a season to see which combinations will work best. It wasn’t long ago when he inserted Caruso over Howard in the starting lineup in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, which helped the Lakers get out to a strong start on their way to wrapping up the series. If Vogel can make lineup changes on the biggest stage, then he’ll likely do the same over the course of the season as the team looks to for the right lineups that will help them defend their championship.