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3 Lakers’ lineups to keep an eye on heading into the season

With their roster all but set, Darvin Ham will have several five-man configurations to experiment with this upcoming year. Let’s take a look at a few of the most interesting.

2023 NBA Playoffs- Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

If there is a singular word that has embodied the Lakers’ offseason thus far, it’s continuity. The buzz word has been echoed by Rob Pelinka, Darvin Ham, Jeanie Buss and pretty much anyone else associated with the organization this summer.

What’s ordinary for other teams, continuity has been something foreign for the Lakers the past few seasons. But by retaining the core pieces that helped spearhead their trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers will enter training camp on solid footing — and familiarity — for the first time in recent memory.

Ham and his coaching staff will also need to navigate how they incorporate the new additions, as there are now several lineup configurations at his disposal. Usually easier said than done, picking the right five players for each scenario is like shuffling through a Rubik's cube. Lining up each color takes patience, strategy and ultimately some experimenting.

What follows are a few passes through the Lakers’ roster to find some of the more interesting and effective lineups we may see this upcoming season. Also, some five-man groups that likely will infuriate but could be fun nevertheless.

The (new) starters

D’Angelo Russell/Austin Reaves/Rui Hachimura/LeBron James/Anthony Davis

Of all the lineups mentioned in this article, this is the only one we’ve already seen. However, it was a lot less than you’d probably think.

Due to the combination of injuries and the timing of the trades, the group played in only 18 possessions together during the regulars season according to Cleaning the Glass.

While the lineup played more in the playoffs — 59 possessions (6th most used grouping) — their overall sample remains minuscule. That said, when they have been out on the floor together the results have been resoundingly encouraging.

The lineup outscored their opponents by an unbelievable +64.6 points in the postseason, while also posting an offRTG of 167.8. For context, the Lakers offRTG on the season was 114.8 (20th in the NBA).

That obviously won't be the case over the length of a full season, but the mix of shooting, ball-handling, size and sheer versatility makes it one of the most balanced and best theoretical configurations at the team’s disposal.

Beyond the basketball fit, it’s also worth noting how pay raises may dictate who starts — with D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura all inking lucrative new deals in the offseason. This may mean that Jarred Vanderbilt is the odd man between his own limitations and Hachimura’s ascent.

Either way, there’s a high probability we see a lot more of this lineup this upcoming year, and perhaps as soon as being penciled into the starting five on opening night.

The fast and the studious

Austin Reaves/Cam Reddish/Max Christie/LeBron James/Jaxson Hayes

It sometimes feel like it goes overlooked given other roster gripes, but the Lakers need to improve their offense this season if they hope to go even further in the playoffs.

Despite revamping their personnel at the trade deadline, the Lakers’ offense still sputtered in the postseason, ranking 9th in offRTG and 11th in eFG% amongst all teams who appeared in the playoffs.

A big reason for their issues on that end has been a result of their poor production in the half court. An ailment that has surprisingly become a trend in the LeBron James/Anthony Davis era. The Lakers ranked 19th in the league in half-court offense (98) this season, and only marginally improved after the trade deadline to 98.3.

By virtue of their half-court struggles, a potential solution resides in putting more of an emphasis in their transition game. An area that has fluctuated over the years, and again this past campaign.

The Lakers were tied for 6th in the league in transition frequency (16.4%) prior to the trade deadline, largely due to Russell Westbrook’s breakneck attack. After their roster makeover, however, the team slowed down as they dropped to only 15.1% of their possessions starting with a transition chance, which ranked 13th in the NBA during that time span.

Although their transition chances took a dip, their efficiency jumped, as they ranked 7th for the remainder in the season compared to 22nd prior to February 9th. This is a potential encouraging sign that their new personnel were better equipped to finish their chances in early offense than their predecessors.

With no Westbrook, most of the igniting will have to come at the hands of LeBron James. While that may sound like a taxing ask for the almost 40-year-old, James is uniquely equipped with being a transition engine while also exerting little no energy thanks to his incredible outlet passing.

In order to capitalize on those kickouts, the Lakers will need to surround James with athletes and young legs, two things the team already possess and added onto this summer.

While he has his limitations, Jaxson Hayes offers the type of size and athleticism at the center spot that James will likely salivate playing next to in open court. Hayes scored 1.49 points per transition possession this past season, which ranked in the 95th percentile in the league.

The same conceptual idea applies to the likes of Cam Reddish and Max Christie. For Reddish, it was his athleticism that originally made him such an appealing prospect, and while it remains to be seen how Christie plays this year, he should also help fill running and shooting lanes.

Austin Reaves also would be a nice connector and ignitor in his own right. When he's not starting a break, he can be a recipient of James’ passing thanks to his stellar finishing around the rim and ability to cash his spot-up opportunities. He posted a 74.2% eFG% in early offense chances this past season.

The Lakers certainly have the horses, and with a veteran jockey at the helm, they also have the makings for a dangerous running team.

The closers

Gabe Vincent/Austin Reaves/Rui Hachimura/LeBron James/Anthony Davis

As they often do, the playoffs have a way of revealing a team’s deepest flaws. Even though the Lakers made it as far as they did, they too were not exempt from this time-tested fact.

The Denver Nuggets exposed their lack of defensive size, inconsistent shooting, and general need for more toughness. Inserting a singular player like Gabe Vincent won’t address all those needs, but the Lakers will likely bank on him offering enough marginal help in these areas to make a difference over the long run.

What he lacks in height, Vincent offers more of a physical frame and grit than the likes of D’Angelo Russell on defense in particular. And on offense, Vincent represents more of the prototypical off-ball guard that James has excelled playing next to in the past.

Russell is far more decorated as a playmaker and shooter, but between his shortcomings in the postseason and Vincent’s recent playoff heroics, there’s a strong chance Ham calls Vincent’s number during closing time.

To what degree Vincent supplants Russell, if at all, rests on how real his postseason performance was in relation to it translating going forward. The guard started in 22 games for the Miami Heat on their path to the Finals, and averaged 12.7 points on 37.8% shooting from behind the arc.

The shooting in particular was a bit of an outlier, as Vincent has been a career 33.9% shooter from deep in his four seasons in the league. The Lakers will need him to hover around that 36-37% range to feel comfortable with entrusting him in the closing group in the regular season and beyond.

Vincent will also need to prove his height will not be a liability, as the Nuggets showed firsthand how important size certainly can be.

Who ultimately wins the starting guard spot between Russell and Vincent will likely be the most hotly-contested training camp battle to keep an eye on. But as John Wooden once said, it’s not who starts the game but who finishes it. And thanks to his pedigree and skillset, Vincent may have the early leg up.

Honorable mentions

The workhorses:

Gabe Vincent/Austin Reaves/Taurean Prince/LeBron James/Anthony Davis

The upside play:

Austin Reaves/Max Christie/Cam Reddish/Rui Hachimura/Jaxson Hayes

The Xenomorphs:

D’Angelo Russell/Cam Reddish/Taurean Prince/Jarred Vanderbilt/Anthony Davis

You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.

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