With the Los Angeles Lakers losing veterans Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley heading into the NBA bubble, the team’s coaching staff was put in a difficult position to find players to help fill the void even if they were nothing but glorified insurance policies for the backcourt.
Fortunately, the team had already added Dion Waiters to the roster before the season was suspended in March and had brought in JR Smith at the same time for a workout. The Lakers ultimately chose to add Waiters over Smith, but due to the expansion of rosters to 17 and the loss of Bradley, Los Angeles was able to sign Smith as well.
Both players come with questions. Waiters had off-the-court issues on other teams while Smith hadn’t played since 2018, but so far, neither of those things have become a problem with head coach Frank Vogel all-in on both players as they may very well have made a strong case to be in the Lakers’ playoff rotation.
“They both definitely did,” Vogel said of Smith and Waiters’ case to crack the playoff rotation. “Particularly today was probably the best day for both of them. We know they’re talented.
“For me, it’s been an opportunity to shape their play they way we want them to fall into their roles. Their roles are different in terms of JR. We asked him this morning to be more aggressive in his catch-and-shoot offense. He was just that. Knocked down six-for-seven.
“For Dion, being very aggressive, touching the paint trying to get to the charge circle, making good reads. He did that, as well.
“When the guys are coachable and do what you’re asking them to do and do it at a high level, they definitely make a case for being in the playoff rotation.”
On Monday, the Lakers played their third and final scrimmage game against the Washington Wizards. None of the team’s top-tier players made it to the floor with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and Dwight Howard all sitting out.
This created an ideal situation for Smith and Waiters to showcase their skills, and they were both able to do that against Washington. Smith was absolutely on fire from beyond the arc going 6-for-7, as Vogel noted. He led all scorers with 20 points.
Waiters, however, did his damage driving to the basketball or “touching the paint,” as his coach pointed out. The veteran journeyman finished with 18 points to go along with six assists.