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Luke Walton wants Lakers to have 10-man rotation, hopes team can use depth to play fast

Lakers head coach Luke Walton says the team is going to try and avoid having more than 10 players play in any one game, but he thinks his team is really deep and has more than 10 players who can contribute.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers played 16 players in their preseason-opening loss to the Denver Nuggets, with everyone on their 19-man training camp roster that was healthy enough to play seeing the floor other than Jeffrey Carroll.

But even with Carroll, Lonzo Ball and Moe Wagner’s absences from the lineup, that’s still a wider distribution of minutes than an NBA team can even employ during the season, when active rosters are limited to 13 players per game.

So while Lakers head coach Luke Walton obviously knows that he’ll have to trim his rotation down, he does think the Lakers have a lot of guys who can contribute at the NBA level (via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN):

Walton said he will utilize the Lakers’ depth, and the rotation could be different for players from night to night, including small-ball variations as well.

”We’re gonna play fast so we’re gonna get guys in and out,” Walton said when asked what center JaVale McGee’s minutes could look like this season. “We want to use our depth to our advantage and come in waves. It’ll be different for most players from one night to the next.”

Walton has spoken often this summer of how fast, small and skilled he wants to play, and the Lakers’ deep roster could be a benefit on that front. However, he also told reporters at the team’s Monday practice that while he thinks his team has more than 10 guys who can contribute in an NBA game, he doesn’t plan to use more than 10 players on a regular basis:

”We try not to play 11 or 12 in the same game, obviously,” Walton added of how deep his rotation will be. “There’ll be games we do because we’re searching for something that we don’t have for whatever reason, and in the NBA season there’ll be injuries. We’ll feel confident when things like that happen. Players that might not have been in the rotation will be able to help us play and compete and win ballgames.”

If Walton is hoping to cut his rotation to 10, looking at the Lakers’ box score from their first preseason game makes it look pretty obvious what such a rotation would look like right now.

Assuming Lonzo Ball comes back healthy and takes one of of those 10 spots, then the Lakers’ top nine players in minutes against the Nuggets were:

  1. Brandon Ingram
  2. Josh Hart
  3. Kyle Kuzma
  4. Rajon Rondo
  5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  6. Lance Stephenson
  7. JaVale McGee
  8. LeBron James (phew, barely made the cut)
  9. Svi Mykhailiuk

Now, this isn’t to say things can’t change or draw too many conclusions from a preseason game. Training camp could alter Walton’s thinking, and the other thing to note is that Michael Beasley had the extenuating circumstances of leaving the game due to a blow to the head that led to a concussion test (he passed and is eligible to play again).

Beasley looked set to play more than Mykhailiuk before having to leave the game with his injury, so it might be fair to pencil him in at that ninth spot as well, leaving Ball to round out the 10-man rotation.

If that holds, then that would leave rookies Mykhailiuk (who often looked lost defensively Sunday night) and Wagner as the most notable players left out of the rotation on a regular basis when the season starts, as well as only one traditional center (McGee) getting regular playing time.

However, as Walton said, more than just 10 guys will get their various shots at times when the Lakers are looking for a spark or have injuries.

The other thing to watch for is whether this means Walton will continue his predilection for hockey subs and contiguous five-man units that almost always stick together. That was more of a thing during his first season as Lakers head coach than it was last year, but it’s worth noting that outside of LeBron — who led the league in minutes — the only other Laker to rank in the top 40 in total minutes last season was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who ranked 39th in the NBA.

Some of that was due to injuries, sure, but it was also because Walton likes to spread minutes around and come at teams in waves like he plans to again this year. If he continues that strategy this season, it just makes it even more important for the team’s younger players to learn on the fly and show they can make an impact in limited opportunities, because they may not get tons of burn in order to regain their rhythm if they hit a cold slump.

All stats per NBA.com and ESPN. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.