Luke Walton has been desperately searching for answers as the current Lakers season circles the drain, which has most recently manifested in a new starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Reggie Bullock, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James, and Kyle Kuzma.
This is the first time that Walton has started a lineup without a traditional center this season, reflecting the precipitous decline of their bigs. JaVale McGee began the season as a pleasant surprise, and Tyson Chandler shored up the position 10 games in, but the clock struck midnight on both of them soon after that.
This isn’t the Death Lineup that the Lakers had in mind this summer. Lonzo Ball’s injury deprives the team of a guard with size, perimeter defense and rebounding ability — both necessary components for a quality small-ball lineup — leaving Rajon Rondo in his place.
Rondo is a poor perimeter defender at this point in his career and lacks the size to be able to switch effectively. That hasn’t been the only issue with this starting lineup:
As outlined in the video, the interior defense isn’t much better. James has been giving adequate effort but isn’t a capable rim protector at this point in his career. Kuzma has difficulty with some of the 4’s that he’s asked to guard, and has been completely overmatched when asked to defend 5’s at various points of the season.
There is some offensive benefit to playing this group — particularly with James’ alternating duties as the point guard and screen-setter — that can be applied to the rest of this season and beyond. It’s just not nearly enough to overcome the deficiencies on the other end.
The end result is that the Lakers have gotten most of the disadvantages of going small without many of the benefits. They’re getting killed at the rim but can’t stay in front of anyone on the perimeter. Walton needs to find a different answer.