Three lineup adjustments Lakers can make to help Russell Westbrook after his disastrous debut on opening night

It is opening night time. The Los Angeles Lakers are trotting out a brand new superteam towards one in all their largest rivals, who additionally occurs to be lacking one in all its finest gamers. The result’s disastrous. Virtually all people apart from LeBron James and Anthony Davis struggles. Daring proclamations are made in regards to the group’s viability. For the subsequent a number of days, the sky may as properly be falling. 

Would you consider that I am not describing the 121-114 defeat the Golden State Warriors handed Russell Westbrook and his new-look Lakers on Tuesday? No, I am describing a really related recreation that occurred almost two years earlier. On Oct. 22, 2019, James and Davis performed their first recreation as teammates. Kawhi Leonard defeated them with out Paul George by his facet. Lakers not named James, Davis or Danny Green mixed to attain solely 29 complete factors. Go try a few of the headlines that adopted that debacle when you want a way of how grim issues seemed within the instant aftermath.

All of us bear in mind what occurred within the months that adopted. The Lakers went 24-2 of their subsequent 26 video games. James turned an MVP candidate whereas Davis made his case for Defensive Participant of the Yr. Those self same Clippers wilted within the bubble. The Lakers received the championship.

Historical past is not at all assured to repeat itself, and the issues going through the 2021-22 Lakers reduce considerably deeper. The 2019-20 model, frankly, made sense. James was the NBA‘s finest playmaker. Davis was the NBA’s finest play-finisher. Each participant on the roster existed solely to assist them, largely by making 3s and play protection. The present mannequin is considerably extra difficult for quite a lot of causes that reach properly past Westbrook. Each participant who took the ground on Tuesday apart from James, Davis and Westbrook are making the minimal this season. The defenders that made the 2019-20 group so particular are largely gone, and lots of of these the Lakers count on to switch them are shaky sufficient shooters to be questionable matches with James and Davis. Determining the combination alongside these three stars goes to take a while. 

Nevertheless it’s value remembering that it took time for that earlier Lakers roster as properly, even when it wasn’t very a lot of it. Keep in mind, Davis, as he did towards the Warriors, hardly performed any heart in his Lakers debut. Alex Caruso acquired DNP’d, however Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook performed 46 mixed minutes. It did not take Frank Vogel lengthy to regulate to those errors. They performed a decent first half towards the Utah Jazz of their second recreation three nights later, so Vogel dusted off Caruso, moved Davis to heart and watched his group rock the Jazz by 13 factors within the third quarter. They had been off to the races from there. Davis did not play all of his minutes at heart and Caruso wasn’t instantly a starter, however Vogel found out what labored and unleashed it when it mattered. Caruso began Recreation 6 of the NBA Finals — the championship-clincher — and did so alongside Davis at heart, the place he spent many of the 2020 postseason.

The changes aren’t going to be as easy this time round, particularly with Trevor Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wayne Ellington and Kendrick Nunn all nursing accidents. The rotation goes to vary regularly as they trickle again into the lineup, and it’ll take Vogel months to crack the code of this roster as an entire. However that does not excuse a few of the totally weird lineup decisions that Vogel made towards the Warriors. So let’s undergo a few of the short-term changes that the Lakers could make to assist proper the ship till the cavalry returns.

1. Put DeAndre Jordan on ice

Let’s check out what Westbrook sees on one of many very first possessions of the sport for the Lakers.

Westbrook has Stephen Curry in entrance of him … and Kevon Looney on the rim, largely ambivalent towards DeAndre Jordan … and Draymond Green on the nail completely content material to permit Davis, a profession 31.2 p.c 3-point shooter, to attempt his luck behind the arc. That is three of the 5 defenders on the ground locked in on maintaining him away from the rim, and the numbers had been usually much less favorable. A few of that is avoidable. Davis has a comparatively poor jump-shooting observe document (2020 postseason apart). Groups are going to let him shoot it doesn’t matter what. Taking part in him alongside Jordan shrinks the paint considerably for Westbrook and much more for James, who additionally has to take care of Westbrook’s poor taking pictures. 

If that is the sacrifice you are making by taking part in Jordan, what are the theoretical advantages? The notion that he’ll be some lob-catching menace from the dunker’s spot or within the pick-and-roll is, at finest, redundant. Davis is the very best lob-catcher in NBA historical past. In concept, there’s loads of worth in taking part in Westbrook with a former rebounding champion for the sake of jump-starting transition alternatives … besides Jordan’s effort and athleticism has slipped considerably since then. He pulled in two rebounds in 13 minutes, and in contrast to the bigs Westbrook performed with in Oklahoma Metropolis, he is not as desperate to clear area for Westbrook to seize boards himself. He wasn’t credited with a single box-out on opening night time by’s tracking data. If the argument is that Jordan by some means improves the protection by providing double-barreled rim safety alongside Davis, properly, I might direct you to Golden State’s very first offensive possession to rapidly dispel that notion.

It is unclear what beginning lineup Vogel would have used with a wholesome roster. Possibly Jordan was meant to be an emergency participant and this simply become an emergency a lot quicker than anybody anticipated. However his presence is not doing anybody any favors besides maybe Davis, who has up to now made it clear that he prefers taking part in energy ahead. That was advantageous on the 2019-20 roster. It is not now. Reviews indicated that Davis was prepared to play considerably extra heart this season to accommodate Westbrook. He’ll need to dwell as much as that if the Lakers are going to outlive. Taking part in heart is not non-compulsory. Possibly Dwight Howard must play extra bench minutes and perhaps the 2 of them have to play collectively a bit in non-Westbrook minutes, however the preseason instructed Jordan not carries any actual utility as an NBA participant, and opening night time supported that notion. There is a motive that the Nets gave up a lot draft capital simply to dump him. He is making Westbrook’s life more durable. Talking of which …

2. When you should play Rondo, play him with out Westbrook

Rajon Rondo has considerably extra political capital inside the Lakers group than Jordan. He is received a championship in purple and gold. James and Davis swear by him. Vogel regularly cites his swag as an invisible contribution. That is all properly and good, however I am fairly positive swag carries much less worth than spacing within the 2021 NBA. Rondo and Westbrook have virtually no synergy with each other as gamers. This possession is a pleasant instance of that. It opens with Rondo making an attempt to make a play … whereas Westbrook watches. It concludes with Westbrook making an attempt to make a shot … whereas Rondo watches. Their defenders are consistently watching the one who has the ball, as a result of the one who would not poses virtually no risk. 

The Lakers performed the Rondo-Westbrook pairing collectively for seven minutes. They misplaced these minutes by 15 factors. This is not rocket science. Rondo and Westbrook are level guards. Taking part in them collectively makes one in all them a taking pictures guard that may’t shoot. A few of the lineups that Vogel used took that idea to the acute. At one level, Rondo and Westbrook shared the ground with Howard, a real heart, Davis, whose taking pictures deficiencies we have lined, and Kent Bazemore, a roughly league-average marksman for his profession. How this unit was assembled, I can’t inform you, but it surely ought to by no means be used once more. 

There’s an argument suggesting that Rondo should not be, both. Keep in mind, previous to his efficiency within the bubble, he had been among the many worst regular-season gamers in basketball for 2 full seasons with the Lakers. All the argument for having him on the group rested on his legendary playoff type, however he was hardly even a part of the rotation for the Clippers final postseason. He is 35. For all of his veteran guile, he may merely not be a viable NBA participant. Even when he’s one, there are higher makes use of of his abilities than taking part in him alongside Westbrook. 

If Rondo goes to play, pair him with LeBron James. Any guard who shares the ground with Westbrook wants to have the ability to shoot. Malik Monk is on the high of that checklist. Avery Bradley can be useful as properly for quite a lot of causes. Not solely was his protection sorely wanted within the opener, however he is a residing instance of how a participant can and may modify to LeBron over the course of a season. Have a look at Bradley’s shot distribution throughout the 2019-20 season by month:
















Westbrook’s adjustment goes to be totally different from Bradley’s, however there’s worth in having him on the ground for example of sacrifice inside this offense, particularly one that matches so properly alongside him. Undrafted rookie Austin Reaves may as properly, contemplating his taking pictures acumen and excessive basketball IQ. The precise gamers Westbrook ought to play with will current themselves over the course of the season, however for now, at a naked minimal, we will comfortably say that Rondo is not one in all them. However there’s one other participant he must be separated from as properly, no less than to an extent.

3. Totally stagger Westbrook and LeBron

Just about each group within the NBA with a number of high-usage perimeter gamers staggers their minutes absolutely. Whereas the 2 will typically play fairly a couple of minutes collectively, the group additionally ensures that they’ve no less than one in all them on the ground always. That wasn’t the case for the Lakers on Tuesday. They performed 4 minutes with neither Westbrook nor James within the recreation. In the meantime, they performed seven minutes with James and Westbrook collectively, however no Anthony Davis. 

Doc Rivers authored the argument in favor of this method final season when he refused to completely stagger Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The thought was to maximise their regular-season minutes collectively even when it value the 76ers just a few wins in order to enhance their chemistry when the playoffs arrived. As poorly as that labored out for them, the concept Vogel needs to embrace this pairing so it really works within the postseason is not essentially loopy in the long term. It is only a bit unfair to each gamers early within the season. 

James and Westbrook are each used to operating whole offenses. Getting both to just accept a co-pilot position goes to take time, and each of their lives could be simpler understanding that they’d have 10-12 minutes per night time because the offense’s lone ball-handler. James, having performed with Rondo and different related gamers up to now, is probably going a bit extra in a position to accommodate overflow in that division. But when the Lakers are going to get Westbrook — who shot 4 of 13 for eight factors Tuesday night time — right into a groove, they need to most likely begin by giving him minutes wherein he can play one thing nearer to the kind of basketball he is used to. We’re speaking child steps right here. 

And, in fact, there are tangible basketball advantages to this method as properly. The Lakers have seen their offense wrestle mightily in all three seasons of the LeBron period when he is gone to the bench. A part of the worth of including Westbrook is that his ball-handling might in concept change that. James has usually thrived because the lone star with bench models, so splitting the 2 of them up and permitting Westbrook to run pick-and-roll with Davis for half of 1 / 4 makes fairly a little bit of sense. It is actually a better match than forcing Westbrook and James to play dueling banjos in these minutes.

All advised, these adjustments would streamline the Lakers rotation into one thing a bit simpler to know. The star trio ought to open video games with two shooters on the ground to make sure that they’ve room to function close to the basket. Westbrook and Davis ought to then share the ground with reserves, and if Davis wants further relaxation, sneaking in some Howard minutes right here makes some sense. The Lakers would comply with that up, as they’ve for 3 years, with James main a reserve-heavy lineup. Then the ultimate minutes of every half would rely on what has labored so far. 

Ultimately, some model of this method might be the place Vogel goes to settle. It most likely will not occur as rapidly because it did throughout the 2019-20 season, but when the aim is maximizing the expertise at hand, that is most likely the only solution to do it. | Three lineup changes Lakers could make to assist Russell Westbrook after his disastrous debut on opening night time


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