Since debuting a new starting lineup of JaVale McGee, Lonzo Ball, LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone 1-1. That’s hardly the type of record that will blow anyone away, but after the Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 114-113 on Wednesday night, head coach Luke Walton said he’s really liked what he’s seen from the new group.
“They were really good tonight. They were locked in, they were getting stops, they were getting out and running, they were moving the ball,” Walton said. “I thought (we) did a really nice job with that unit on the court.”
When digging deeper into that lineups’ numbers, it’s not hard to see why. The unit featuring McGee, James, Ball, Kuzma and Ingram played played 23 minutes together against the Mavericks, and posted an offensive rating (how many points they would be projected to score per 100 possessions) of 119.6 and a defensive rating of 78.4, meaning that lineup would be projected to outscore the Mavericks by 41.2 points per 100 possessions had they continued apace all game.
The Lakers’ new starting group was also the only five-man unit to play more than three minutes together and post a positive net rating. In a one-point win, that sort of monster differential matters.
How did the Lakers do it? James felt the team’s defensive versatility gave them an edge.
“We have great length. We have great rebounders. We have unselfish players. I mean, our whole team is unselfish, so I don’t want to say it like that, (but) we have great length and we find ways to complement each other,” James said.
Ball agreed, and also thought the enthusiasm the starters brought helped change the game.
“We come out with energy. We do a lot of special things, we’re all so big and so fast. We got off to a great start tonight, obviously we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but a great start definitely helps,” Ball said.
A great start before stalling out until James hit a game-winning free-throw was enough against the likely lottery-bound Mavericks, but the Lakers (now 3-5) also know such an effort won’t be enough as they fight for playoff position this year.
“This is the second game in a row that we have had a lot of assists in the first half then stalled out in the second,” Walton said, although he thinks the issue is fixable.
“That will come with trust and getting to know each other more,” Walton said.
It will also come as players get more time on the floor in regular groupings and the rotation normalizes. The Lakers’ starters were the only lineup to play more than four minutes together against the Mavericks, meaning the rest of the team is still adjusting to various combinations.
If these starters prove workable, then Walton will be able to stop throwing so many random, helter-skelter combinations out on the floor as he tries to find something that sticks, and players will begin to learn how to play with one another and rack up more assists.
For now, though, this group has outscored teams over their 31 total minutes together at a rate that would equal 19.6 points per 100 possessions, the best differential of any of the Lakers’ five most frequently used five-man groups. If they can keep it up, it may allow the rest of the rotation to fall into place as well.