One of the byproducts of the Lakers’ injury woes to start the season was not just the players they didn’t have available, but the roles the players they did have available were forced into. With so few players on the active roster, the ones still healthy were forced into outsized roles that perhaps didn’t best suit their playstyle or skillset.
No player embodies that issue more this season than Taurean Prince. A more-than-serviceable 3-and-D wing for his career, Prince was asked to become something he was not, first as a point-of-attack defender defensively and then as a more relied-upon scorer offensively.
The result was struggles on both ends of the court and (rightful) calls for him to be benched. With no realistic options behind him to take his spot, though, Prince remained in the starting lineup.
But as the Lakers have gotten healthier in recent weeks and players have begun to slot more appropriately in their roles, Prince has started to excel. And his head coach has certainly noticed his contributions this season.
On Friday, between the Lakers’ In-Season Tournament games in Las Vegas, Darvin Ham spoke about Prince and his play this season.
“He’s just a pro’s pro,” Ham said. “Savvy veteran, really entering the prime of his career. His physicality, his energy, his shooting ability — when he wasn’t making shots early on, I was not worried. I wanted him to keep shooting because I know what he’s capable of. Again, the physicality that he’s brought to our squad and his consistency in being available is definitely sort of like a security blanket in some aspects.
“He’s going to continue to grow and maturate in his role and we’re damn happy to have him on our team. He’s definitely going to continue making shots but he’s always going to play hard, he’s always going to try to defend, he’s always going to try to rebound, do the little things. He’s always going to try to be a positive, a source of encouragement for his teammates and his team as a whole.”
Ham has never wavered in his belief that Prince’s shooting would turn around, as you would expect any coach to do. After a spell of 10 games in which he shot 16.2% from the 3-point line, Prince is shooting 50% from the 3-point line in the last eight regular season games, not counting Saturday’s In-Season Tournament final.
It’s also interesting to note that, despite all the calls for changes to the starting lineup — myself included — the lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Cam Reddish, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Prince is now 9-1 in their 10 games together as starters.
That 5-man lineup is now the most-used lineup for the Lakers and has a net rating of +1.4. The four-man lineup featuring Russell, Prince, LeBron and Davis is, by some magnitude, the most-used four-man lineup and is a +4.2 on the season.
With Prince able to serve as a defender of wings more akin to his skillset and not the point-of-attack defender, he’s found much more success. Nearly all the lineup data and net ratings for Prince have drastically improved since Reddish moved into the starting lineup.
Some of that is due to proper slotting of roles and some of that is due to Prince bouncing back individually after such a poor start. It shouldn’t all be attributed to Reddish or any one player.
But the result has been a better version of Prince, which is a big win for the Lakers and very important for the team moving forward if they want to contend for more than just an In-Season Tournament title.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.