Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

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USATSI

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are going to start for the Los Angeles Lakers when healthy. That much is obvious. But after those two? Things get a bit dicier in the starting lineup. Russell Westbrook was a starter all of last season, but considering the disappointment of missing the play-in, his position is no longer guaranteed. Second-year guard Austin Reaves and trade acquisition Patrick Beverley have been mentioned as candidates to supplant him in the backcourt, whereas Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant are competing for the starting job at center.

While nothing is decided at this time, new Lakers coach Darvin Ham did reveal the first-unit he’s started camp with on Friday: James, Davis, Westbrook, Jones and Kendrick Nunn. While no individual component of the group is especially surprising, as a whole, the fit is questionable.

Jones and Westbrook are complete non-shooters. Nunn is better, but at just 36.4 percent from behind the arc for his career, he’s really only a league-average shooter from deep. That fivesome simply does not provide the necessary spacing for James and Davis to run pick-and-roll together consistently. The Westbrook-Nunn combination also puts the majority of the team’s ball-handling in one unit. Dennis Schroder provides some supplementary point guard play off the bench, but Westbrook, Nunn and James will all be limited in how often they can control the ball by virtue of sharing the floor with the others.

The Jones vs. Bryant battle is a bit harder to handicap. Bryant missed most of last season recovering from a torn ACL, and he looked significantly worse upon returning to the floor. The best version of him shoots well enough to be a credible starter, but if he plays as he did in Washington a season ago, Jones is likely the superior option even despite his limitations as a shooter.

If the Lakers do insist upon starting a non-shooting center, there is going to be even more pressure on them to bench Westbrook for more of a shooting threat like Beverley. Even the 2020 championship team struggled to score in the half court with a traditional center on the floor because of how much it impacted their spacing. Lineups featuring James, Davis and Westbrook struggled mightily with DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard at center a season ago.

There’s still plenty of time at training camp and in the preseason for things to train. No job has been won yet, but on paper, this is a group that doesn’t make much sense.





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