Lakers head coach Luke Walton didn’t wait long to shake up his starting lineup, replacing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with Josh Hart in just the second game of the preseason. The move paid off as the Lakers’ starters thoroughly outplayed their Denver counterparts during a first half that rocked Staples Center with pace and (sometimes over)passing.
Let’s take a closer look at why Walton may have made the move.
Hart’s ability to put pressure on the rim is important within the context of the new, 1-4 High sets that the Lakers are running. “Screen away” is a central concept to these sets, where one of the bigs on the elbows (usually the 5) screens for the 2 on the weak side. If the defender trails Hart or KCP on this — which is happens the majority of the time — it’s their job to curl around the screen and attack the hedging big until he commits to stopping the ball.
Last season, the Lakers had different spacing concepts, and KCP usually began plays in the corner. Most of his off-screen possessions came off of wide pin-downs, which often resulted in 3-point attempts from the wing for him. The new sets require him to make pass/drive decisions, and while he’s decent at the latter, his ball-handling ability and sleight frame limits how effectively he can attack the rim. Hart has no such issues, attacking the rim with enthusiasm and an array of crafty layups.
KCP will still get plenty of time, and deservedly so. While he isn’t an embraced member of the “young core,” he’s a quality 3-and-D guy who will be an important contributor to the 2018-19 Lakers. But Josh Hart’s ability to get to the rack and finish may make his transition to the starting lineup a permanent one.