Playoff Rotations

Something really jumped out at me last night and I was glad to see Phil Jackson voluntarily addressed it afterwards:

"I think it was my fault," he said in a rare mea culpa. "Substitution probably hurt us a little bit in the course of the game, and I think that I tried to play too many players at that time in the game to get us going, which created a little bit of hesitancy."

With that in mind, let's discuss the playoff rotations.

Point Guard

No offense to Jordan Farmar, but at this point in the season the bench should be shortened to 8-9 guys max, because the time to showcase what you got and audition for your role is over.  Farmar has not produced for a while now, while Shannon Brown has been stepping up consistently for the last few weeks with all the playing time he's got.  Farmar's role at this point should be to keep himself ready in case there is some foul trouble or an injury, but otherwise we shouldn't be seeing him in the games unless it's a blowout. 

There are 48 minutes of playing time to be allocated to this position, and there is no reason they shouldn't all be going to Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown.  Fish should probably be getting the bulk of those minutes, say 28-30, with Brown getting the rest (18-20).  You're not going to find any successful team at this time of year that has a three man rotation for one position.

 

Shooting Guard

Obviously Adam Morrison is out here, and all the minutes should be going to Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic.  Phil's been pretty on point with the rotation here, with Kobe getting 40 minutes in Game 1 and 38 in Game 2; and Sasha getting 12 in Game 1 and 15 in Game 2.  However, Phil shouldn't be afraid to play Kobe more than 40 minutes per game if need be.  After all, the best way to get Kobe some rest is by sweeping the opponent, rather than by sitting him for a few extra minutes in a game where the opposition is rallying from a deficit.  Ideally Kobe should be playing 38-42 minutes a game with Sasha only picking up the extra 6-10 minutes.  There's just no real reason for Sasha to be getting more unless it's a blowout, and even then those extra minutes should come in garbage time in the 4th quarter, not when the Lakers are up 20 in the first half.

 

Small Forward

There's really only two true small forwards on the team, so obviously all the minutes here should be split between Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton.  Luke has been playing well lately, but Trevor has been playing great, and as such Trevor should be getting the large majority of the minutes.  With the way Trevor is playing he should be getting 34-38 minutes a game, with Luke filling in for the remaining 10-14.  So far neither one is getting enough playing time, IMO.  Trevor only played 34 minutes in Game 1 and only 32 minutes last night; while Luke has only played in 11 minutes in each game. 

Additionally, outside of garbage time at the end of a blowout game, there's really no reason for both Luke and Sasha to be on the floor at the same time together, especially if Kobe and Trevor play the number of minutes that they should be.  Personally I don't see a reason for why Phil can't keep Trevor in while Sasha is playing, and to keep Kobe in while Luke is in the game.  If Phil can do that, then it ensures that at worst the lineup looks like this:

Bynum/Gasol - C; Gasol/Odom - PF; Luke - SF; Kobe - SG; Fisher/Brown - PG

or

Bynum/Gasol - C; Gasol/Odom - PF; Trevor - SF; Sasha - SG; Fisher/Brown - PG

Imagine seeing a Laker game whether either of those two lineups are the absolute worst  collection of players you ever see on the floor together!  I'd love to hear an argument for why that shouldn't be the case

 

Power Forward

This position and center are easy to call, and Phil is already basically perfect with his rotations for both frontcourt spots.  Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom should get all the minutes here, with Josh Powell on hand in case of foul trouble, or for mop up duty in garbage time at the end of a blowout win.  Gasol also splits time with Andrew Bynum at center, and between those two and Odom each player should be getting somewhere between 30-40 minutes each game, with Gasol getting the most of the three. 

 

Center

As mentioned above, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should get all the minutes here.  With DJ Mbenga not being active for these games, the Lakers don't really have a third center, although even if DJ was on the roster, he wouldn't be expected to see any non-garbage time minutes.

The only thing to really worry about or manage here is what to do if there is foul trouble.  If there is foul trouble for Gasol, Bynum or Odom, then the other two players should be expected to play more minutes for that game.  Gasol should be reasonably expected to be able to play 42 minutes if needed, while Odom and Bynum should both be able to go up to 38 apiece if one of the other three has their minutes shortened due to foul trouble.  If two or more of these players is limited with foul trouble, only then should Josh Powell be brought in.

 

Summation

The Lakers have a lot of depth, and have one of the best benches in the league.  I saw a quote the other day saying the Lakers went 13 players deep, and there is some truth to that, but the reality is that in the playoffs the best teams lean on their top players more than they do in the regular season.  All that depth has hopefully helped the Lakers get through the grueling 82 regular season games with their most important players not being worn down too much; but the reason for that is so that those top players can now play a lot of minutes and carry the team without the 9, 10, 11 and 12th men on the bench being expected to do much more than cheer a lot and keep ready in case of an injury or excessive foul trouble for the players ahead of them. 

As good as the Lakers' depth is, their real strength lies in all the talent at the top of their rotation, not the relatively good amount of talent at the bottom of it.  The Lakers have seven players who should be getting the bulk of the minutes right now (Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Ariza, Fisher and Brown) and they have two players who should be getting some spot minutes (Luke & Sasha), but that should be it.  Farmar, Morrison and Powell should mainly be there to support their teammates and be ready in case they're needed, but it's time to officially shorten the rotation.

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