The Los Angeles Lakers are no strangers to exciting offseasons. This 2023, however, was not one of those. Though it wasn't, that doesn't mean the Purple and Gold did not have an outstanding offseason. In fact, it was one of the better ones the franchise has had in recent seasons ever since the summer of 2019 when they traded for Anthony Davis. Their additions included signing Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Christian Wood, Cam Reddish, and Jaxson Hayes as free agents, as well as drafting Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis in the 2023 NBA Draft. They also signed undrafted free agents Colin Castleton, D'Moi Hodge, and Alex Fudge to two-way contracts, and extended a number of their own players including Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, D'Angelo Russell, and Jarred Vanderbilt.
The Lakers had a fantastic summer. But now they face the enviable problem most good teams face at some point: figuring out rotations that satisfy everybody. The Lakers' 2022-23 starting lineup–when healthy–for most of the regular season after their trade deadline bonanza that shook up the entire roster consisted of D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Jarred Vanderbilt, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. There is much more competition for those starting lineup spots this time around. Who could be on the way out of the starting lineup?
In this piece reacting to the Lakers' signing of Christian Wood, Lakers beat writer for The Athletic Jovan Buha reported that the Lakers' starting lineup for the 2023-24 could look like something like this: D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. It's almost the exact same lineup, but with one big change: Hachimura instead of Jarred Vanderbilt.
Judging by last year's playoff run to the Western Conference Finals, Hachimura more than deserves a spot in the Lakers' starting lineup. The Lakers were +7.3 points per 100 possessions with Hachimura on the floor and Vanderbilt off it in the playoffs last season according to Cleaning the Glass. The Lakers were -3.6 points per 100 possessions when Vanderbilt was on the floor and Hachimura was off of it.
Hachimura elevated his game in the postseason. He delivered huge moments on both ends of the floor. Of course, there was Hachimura's Game 1 performance against the Memphis Grizzlies where he dropped 29 points and six rebounds in a Lakers' win while coming off the bench.
29 PTS, 6 REB, 5 3PM, 11/14 FG 🔥
Lakers take Game 1 in Memphis. pic.twitter.com/kocNoHj1X1
— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2023
But it wasn't just that game. Hachimura sustained his 3-point shooting all throughout the postseason–he ended up shooting 48.7 percent on just under three attempts from deep per game. He also was able to flash creativity off the catch, as well as attack mismatches on the block.
Rui Hachimura also flashed versatility defensively in the postseason. The Lakers had him bang with Nikola Jokic in the playoffs to allow Anthony Davis to roam around the paint, and that worked. Not that anything really ever works when defending Jokic, but the Lakers were at least able to hold their own in this alignment.
Rui Hachimura’s defense on Jokic pic.twitter.com/oSrnyIojmZ
— ً❼ (@CookedByLakers) May 17, 2023
Jarred Vanderbilt, meanwhile, wasn't as big of a factor in the postseason. His minutes declined by series during the Lakers' postseason run. In the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies, Vanderbilt averaged 19.8 minutes per game. In the second round against the Golden State Warriors, his minutes dipped to 14.5. In the Western Conference Finals. And that average fell to 13.7, not including the DNP he got in Game 4.
Most will harp to Vanderbilt's lack of a consistent jumper (he is a career 28.8 percent 3-point shooter), but it wasn't just what disappeared in the playoffs. LeBron dropping to a sub-33 percent shooter from deep made it harder to keep another shooter who teams don't respect from deep. So did D'Angelo Russell disappearing in the Nuggets series.
But Vanderbilt's energy and defense are valuable in the regular season no matter the shooting shortcomings. Vanderbilt is probably the best defender on the team outside of Anthony Davis. His motor is maybe the highest on the team, too. Both were on display against the Dallas Mavericks in one of his first games as a Laker.
Jarred Vanderbilt vs Dallas Mavericks
— A Walking Highlight (@11AWH) February 27, 2023
Vanderbilt has plenty to offer. So much so that the Lakers showed their belief in him when they signed him to a four-year $48 million extension. He will be a factor for their team this season, but his spot in the starting lineup doesn't look as safe now than it did when he first arrived in Los Angeles.