The Los Angeles Lakers are off to a disappointing 8-8 start. Are they in danger of spiraling out of control? They are not. That said, something needs to change if they’re going to win the Western Conference. Head coach Frank Vogel can start by allocating more consistent playing time to his young players.
This rotation shakeup sees three-to-four players 26 or younger assume 25-plus minute roles. Those players can include Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk and when healthy Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves.
Horton-Tucker got a late start to the 2021-22 NBA season due to a thumb injury. In the three games he has appeared in for the Lakers, Horton-Tucker has been a leading offensive catalyst for the Lakers, as he’s averaging an astounding 23.3 points per game. He has shown a knack for creating his own shot and getting inside off the dribble. Horton-Tucker is also a respectable outside shooter. He has to stay in a high-minute role.
Monk came to the Lakers after putting together the best season of his NBA career where he averaged a career-high 11.7 points per game while shooting 40.1 percent from beyond the arc for the Charlotte Hornets. Thus far, Monk has had a similar impact on the Lakers, stretching the floor and providing a jolt off the bench.
In his two years with the Miami Heat, Nunn, who’s yet to play this season due to a knee injury, was a steady player on the offensive end. He was an efficient and effective shooter who could handle the rock and find the open man. Nunn collectively averaged 15.0 points per game while shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc with the Heat.
In the brief playing time he received before suffering a hamstring injury, Reaves provided some scoring bursts. When he returns to the floor, the Lakers can see if Reaves can continue to be a sly scoring option off the bench.
Does giving considerable and/or starting minutes to these players ensure more wins for the Lakers? It does not. At the same time, this option comes with something that the veterans the team is playing at the moment don’t have: upside.
For instance, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard are what they are. There isn’t any tangible room for growth in their respective games. They’re respectable players who have a role and can play it well, but that also means they’re not the solution.
Most, if not all of these players are on minimum contracts. It’s not as if the Lakers have eight-figure salaries tied up in them and therefore need to get specific production; they’re paying a lot of players on the back end minimum salaries to be complementary skill players.
Furthermore, injuries are already piling up for a Lakers’ team that has 10 players who are 32 or older. LeBron James is nursing an abdominal strain. Ariza has an ankle injury. As previously alluded to, Nunn and Reaves are off the court and Horton-Tucker just came back from an injury.
Wouldn’t it make sense for the Lakers to not overwork their older players? Inevitably, there will be more injuries with this squad given its collective age. Heck, James and Anthony Davis have been sidelined for a reasonable amount of time over the last two seasons. Playing the likes of Horton-Tucker and Monk heavy minutes means taking some of the burden off the veteran players when it comes to carrying the load on both ends of the floor.
Carmelo Anthony has been a leading and encouraging source of offense for the Lakers this season. Imagine if they can get him into more of an effective, off-the-ball shooting role: it makes their offense all the more dangerous, which is the point here.
Los Angeles entered Thursday 18th in the NBA in opponent three-point shooting percentage (34.6 percent), 19th in opponent field goal percentage (45.4 percent) and 28th in opponent points per game (112.3). If they keep severely banking on older legs, those figures will only get worse.
As far as the offense is concerned, the Lakers are plausible but little more. James’ absence isn’t helping anything, but this is an offense that was plopped together given Russell Westbrook’s $44 million salary hampering a payroll that already included two essential max contracts (James and Davis).
The pieces don’t necessarily fit, and Westbrook’s compatibility with James remains to be seen. Vogel needs players who can both score and shoot given Westbrook’s inconsistent shooting and the health concerns that now surround James and Davis.
Even at full force, the Lakers can’t be in a situation where they’re solely reliant on their big three; the West is too loaded for that mentality. Heck, the Lakers led the Phoenix Suns 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs last season and then lost three in a row when Davis went down.
Vogel and the Lakers know what they’re getting from the players they signed; it has left much to be desired. Vogel also knows what he’s getting from the youth present. The difference is the latter has room for growth and the potential to significantly impact the scoring charge.
Unleashing the youth is the key to the Los Angeles Lakers kickstarting their season.