With their first preseason game just a week away, the Los Angeles Lakers will hold their first practice as a team on Sunday, and the competition in their team scrimmages promises to be fierce.
Outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, there’s no one with a guaranteed spot in Frank Vogel’s starting lineup. Additionally, with how much more talented the Lakers got at every position, players from last season’s roster may see their roles diminish. So with all that context noted, let’s look at the most interesting storylines to watch for during training camp.
Who’s the starting in the back court?
Dennis Schröder thinks he should be the Lakers’ starting point guard, and he has a strong case as to why he should be. Last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Schröder averaged 22.1 points, 4.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per 36 minutes.
However, he put up those numbers while coming off of the bench, and Vogel could keep him in that role if he wants to follow the formula for success that he had last season, which was to use LeBron James as the de facto point guard in the starting lineup. He hasn’t yet made a decision one way or the other:
Frank Vogel isn't going to talk about Dennis Schröder starting since the Lakers haven't even had a practice yet.— Harrison Film Room (@hmfaigen) December 4, 2020
"Way too soon for that, but definitely going to give strong consideration to Dennis in the starting lineup."
Frank Vogel says he calls Schröder "The Speeding Bullet" and that he's one of the fastest players in the league, and someone who will only help their fastbreak attack.— Harrison Film Room (@hmfaigen) December 4, 2020
"There are probably very few coaches in the league that are bigger fans of him than I am."
If Vogel decides to keep LeBron as the Lakers’ main floor general, the guards that aren’t as skilled as Schröder is, like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews and Alex Caruso, may actually be favored to win a spot in the starting five. Remember: Caldwell-Pope started every game in the postseason, and he showed that he belonged alongside James and Davis. Wesley Matthews was a starter with the Milwaukee Bucks last season as well.
It might be in the Lakers’ best interest to keep Schröder happy because he’ll have the ability to leave as an unrestricted free agent next summer, but at the end of the day, Vogel’s going to do what he thinks will put his team in the position to repeat. Things could get interesting.
Kyle Kuzma vs. Alfonzo McKinnie and Markieff Morris
Coming off of an offseason in which the Lakers lost both Avery Bradley and Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma’s growth as a perimeter defense will be crucial to the team’s success this season. The question with Kuzma, though, is whether or not the improvement he showed on that end last season was just another flash of potential, or something they can actually count on.
If it’s the latter, Alfonzo McKinnie, an athletic 6-foot-8 forward with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, will have an opportunity to squeeze into the rotation. That’s not to say McKinnie is a better player than Kuzma, or even a comparable one, but if he shows more effort and determination on the defensive end than Kuzma, he may win Vogel over.
Those minutes at the wing aren’t ones that Kuzma can afford to lose, because Markieff Morris is a better floor-spacer at the 4 than he is, as is Jared Dudley. Now, there’s not a scenario that involves Kuzma falling out of the rotation entirely, in my opinion, because there are small things he does well enough to justify getting meaningful minutes. But Kuzma can’t continue this trend of being a “jack of all trades but a master of none.” If he’s going to have a big role on this team, he’ll have to make his case more clear and defined than it is now.
The Lakers vs. Injuries
The Lakers will play their first preseason game on Dec. 11, exactly two months after they beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals for their 17th championship. Their offseason was short, and that’s a cause for concern for a team with two key players that will turn 36 years old during the regular season.
Positional battles are fun, but there’s really only one thing the Lakers should be concerned about in the preseason: staying healthy. If they can do that, at least they’ll start the season on the right note.