Leading up to Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, Lakers head coach Luke Walton hinted that he would be making a change or two to the starting lineup.
In the four previous games, Walton rolled out a starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee. On Tuesday, Walton moved Hart and McGee to the second unit in favor of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tyson Chandler.
The decision to move Caldwell-Pope into the starting lineup was seen as a no-brainer because of how well he’s played in the absence of LeBron James and Josh Hart’s coinciding poor shooting, but the decision to start Chandler was met with heavy criticism.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, McGee had started every game he was available for this season, and rightfully so. Additionally, Chandler, who is 36 years old, had been dealing with a back issue. However, despite this, the reasoning behind moving Chandler into the starting lineup was actually quite simple.
Over the past 11 games, Chandler has posted the highest net rating (+14) on the team. Caldwell-Pope (+4.9) is a distant second, but he’s the only other player on the Lakers who has posted a positive net rating during that time. In other words, their promotions were well-deserved.
As for Hart and McGee, Walton said that they didn’t show any signs of frustration as a result of their demotion.
“No. I complimented both of them,” Walton said. “JaVale was cheering for his teammates, just like he always does whether he’s starting or not. And there was some anger, I’m sure ... Most players want to start. And what we preach all the time is that it’s about the team. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the court or the bench, we support each other. I saw JaVale up off the bench doing it, and I could tell by Josh’s demeanor on the court and defensive effort that he was locked in and ready to help us win that game.”
The starting lineup change was a success on the court too. In 19 minutes together, the new-look starting five posted a net rating of +18 and stellar defensive rating of +84.6.
Walton also wanted to get guys who were natural vocal leaders into the starting lineup, which is something Tyson Chandler also wanted to bring to the table.
”Throughout this stretch, having some of our leaders out, Rondo out, LeBron out, there’s been times where it’s been a little frantic,” Chandler said. “One mistake will turn into three or four, and so just when one thing happened, trying to settle them down, like ‘all right, don’t worry about that, think about the next play.’ I thought we did a nice job of bouncing back tonight.”
All that being said, Chandler understands that this move is likely a temporary one for him.
”We forget that (McGee) just came back from pneumonia,” Chandler said. “Or we don’t forget, but sometimes it can be forgotten. For him it’s just about getting his strength back, and that’s what I’m here for. We’re a team, we’re always going to be together. I’m starting right now, and when he starts I’ll be cheering and I’ll play whatever role coach asks for me. For him it’s just about getting his strength. He’s been incredible for us all year and he was a great teammate tonight.”
Walton remained non-committal when he was asked if he would use the same starting lineup for next game.
“I’ve got to look at this tape,” Walton said. “I loved our defensive intensity to start, I can tell you that. And I thought it carried throughout the game. I’ve got to get into OKC, look at their team, look at our matchups and then we’ll make that decision tomorrow or the next day.”
With the number of injuries and suspensions this season, the starting lineup has seen many different faces and there’s a good chance it will see a few more before the season ends. However, as long as Walton continues to preach team basketball, it should be a non-issue, at least from a chemistry standpoint.
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