Josh Hart will be inserted into the starting lineup in the first game the Los Angeles Lakers will play at Staples Center this year when they take on the Denver Nuggets tonight. Luke Walton made it clear that this is by no means a decision based on how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has played thus far, though.
“I told KCP that everything he’s done all training camp has been exactly what we asked him to do,” Walton told reporters at the team’s Tuesday shootaround of the decision. “No matter who we end up starting, we’re going to be playing different groups throughout the game, so it can’t just be one group and the other group. We’ve got to keep getting guys comfortable with playing with each other.”
A couple things stick out here, though it’s always important not to read too deeply into preseason play, let alone coaching decisions this early in the process.
First and foremost, this follows a trend we’ve seen thus far from Walton. Sunday evening in the Lakers’ preseason debut, he tried all kinds of different lineups throughout the game. Because of how few minutes some starters — notably LeBron James — play during the preseason, it makes sense that Walton would want to figure out a way to get Hart alongside James at some point.
Next, this could be a hint at a slightly different coaching style than we saw from Walton last year. He kept a very clear distinction between starters and bench a year ago. Walton has already mentioned how his rotation is going to be more free-flowing this season — while trying to keep the number of players who enter the game to around 10 players — and giving guys an opportunity to play with starters during the preseason is a great way to see which combinations work under those conditions.
Again, though, I cannot stress enough how dumb looking too deeply into coaching decisions in the preseason can make one look. The point of these games as training camp has been shortened over the last couple years is for the team to learn as much as it possible can about itself. With that in mind, mixing up the starters with a team this deep makes perfect sense.
Hart has certainly earned this opportunity, though, starting with the strong play we saw from him last year, which carried into summer league and apparently continued into this year’s training camp. We’ll see how this looks, and I’m sure no one will overreact if he plays well.