With the news that Russell Westbrook could actually come off the bench for the first time in 14 years, a whole new world of starting lineup possibilities is available for the Lakers. Given the wide array of combinations Darvin Ham and his staff used during the preseason, it’s anyone’s best guess what direction the Lakers are actually leaning for the three players to start alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
So we posed the question to our Silver Screen and Roll crew: Who should be in the Lakers’ starting lineup?
Here’s what they came up with. Let us know what your chosen five would be in the comments.
Alex Regla: I do not envy Darvin Ham. Given the added pressure that comes with being a first-time head coach, and helming the Lakers at that, Ham’s decisions this season will expectantly be magnified and critiqued. His first comes in the form of his opening night starting lineup. After much consideration, I personally would give the nod to a five-man group of Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. I have size concerns, but I do think there are enough ball-navigation/chasing skills with this guard/wing trio to be effective defensively both off-ball and funneling toward the drop-man they’ve almost run exclusively. They also offer just enough additional ball-handling, pick and roll and spacing ability on offense to fit alongside James and Davis.
Cooper Halpern: LeBron, AD, Pat Bev, and Austin Reaves should be locks. Nunn, JTA, and Lonnie all have credible cases to deserve the fifth and final starting spot. Give me the Lakers’ quickest decision-makers around their top dogs and let’s ride #NoRecordSkips.
Donny McHenry: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Patrick Beverley, and Kendrick Nunn. It seems like Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant have been just as, if not more underwhelming in practice than they have been in the preseason games. Because of that, I have AD at my starting center position. However, I think pairing the AD and LeBron frontcourt with three guards is foolish, so I have JTA at the starting 3 (over Austin Reaves who is a guard no matter what the Lakers say). With JTA out there, LeBron is then able to guard the worst offensive forward on the opposing team, resulting in LeBron being able to save his legs and stamina as much as possible throughout the season. As for putting Russ on the bench, staggering his and LeBron’s minutes as much as possible... I don’t feel the need to explain that.
Jacob Rude: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves, and Lonnie Walker IV. Color me shocked the Lakers even considered bringing Russell Westbrook off the bench this early into the Darvin Ham Era, but it’s a pleasant surprise. If that’s a realistic possibility, then the Lakers starting lineup on opening night should not include him. Austin Reaves has been one of the biggest bright spots of the preseason as he looks more and more ready for a bigger role this season. Patrick Beverley is, in many ways, the perfect type of guard to pair alongside LeBron and AD. Lonnie Walker IV has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the preseason in just how confident and good he’s looked and played his way into a bigger role and potentially a starting lineup.
Nicole Ganglani: My ideal starting lineup for opening night would be Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker IV, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. I went back and forth on the possibility of switching Juan Toscano-Anderson (JTA) for Walker, but I’m bullish on the idea of having a balance between offense and defense to start and close games. I also realized that JTA’s pace and energy are needed more for the second unit instead. That said, the idea of Walker, Beverley and Reaves (despite the height concerns) surrounding the team’s dynamic duo provides strong point-of-attack, off-ball, and ball navigation defense on top of more spacing, pick-and-roll and shot creation opportunities, and ball-handling on offense. I think it’s crucial for this Lakers team to set the tone, find their rhythm and impose their will early every game, and I feel that this starting lineup is capable of getting enough stops and capitalizing on offense to do just that. Aside from offense and defense, this lineup has a combination of athleticism, speed, high basketball IQ and effort to make a strong push to start games.
Raj Chipalu: Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker, JTA, LeBron, and AD. With Davis playing more center than anticipated, it’s vital we have size at the other positions. JTA is a connector and can take some of the pressure off of James and Davis defensively in the front court. Walker gives much-needed athleticism and has been a strong point-of-attack defender in the preseason. This lineup allows Kendrick Nunn to be the scoring punch off the bench while staggering the Westbrook and James minutes.
Rajpal Brar: Beverley-Reaves-Bron-AD-Jones. I chose this starting lineup for a few reasons, with the underlying theme being balance. On the offensive end, you have spacing and playmaking from Beverley, Reaves, and Bron. Jones won’t space but he’s an effective pick-and-roll player and lob threat along with being switchable defensively. In that same vein, this lineup is somewhat switchable if needed and both Jones and AD fit into Ham’s PnR scheme with the big playing in a drop. The rest can give you ball pressure and high IQ defending to set the tone early. The biggest question was whether to play AD at the 5 but considering the grind of the regular season and prioritizing AD’s health, I’m fine with the trade-off of only doing that for key intervals of the game (e.g. closing lineup would be with AD at the 5).
Sabreena Merchant: Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker, LeBron, AD, and Damian Jones. The size of the perimeter players in an AD at center lineup really concerns me, and I’ve always loved deploying Davis as a wing defender, which is impossible when he’s the back line of defense. Defending away from the basket also allows AD to rim run more effectively, and transition is going to be a huge part of this team’s offense. I went with Jones over Bryant for the defensive capabilities and the vertical spacing. PatBev is a fairly obvious choice to start considering his 3-and-D potential, and Walker earns the nod due to his strong preseason. The Lakers should have some real athleticism advantages with this group, which is a very fun way to start games.