As the NBA gears up for the second half of its first COVID-19-affected full season, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves with far less of a cushion than they had at this point last year. The Lakers are in the top tier of the Western Conference again, but in the midst of a dogfight for playoff seeding. They sit closer to the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets (three games ahead) than the No. 1 seed the Utah Jazz (3.5 games back) in the standings and lost seven of their last 10 contests heading into the All-Star break.
Hanging over the Lakers is a cloud of uncertainty around Anthony Davis and his balky achilles tendon, which has kept him out indefinitely since he re-aggravated it at the beginning of that 10-game skid. The good news is that Andre Drummond may be there for the Lakers’ taking in the buyout market, but that would have to take place after the NBA trade deadline on March 25. In the meantime, Frank Vogel will have to get creative with the pieces he does have to compensate for Davis’s absence.
Our own Donny McHenry already explored how Vogel could do this on an individual level by getting Montrezl Harrell more involved in the pick-and-roll game where he is historically extremely successful, but I want to take a look at some different AD-less lineup combinations that showed some promise in the first half.
LeBron James, Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris, Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso
29 minutes played, +31, 52.2 net rating
You read that right. In a fairly small amount of minutes, the combination of LeBron plus basically the second-string dude at every other position is outscoring opponents by 31. A big chunk of that is due to a ridiculous and unsustainable performance on offense, as this unit is shooting 63.3% from the field and 57.1% (!!!) from 3-point range. However, this unit is also impressive on defense thanks in large part to the backcourt of Caruso and Matthews, with a defensive rating of 83.9. Though their performance is likely bound to regress once they see more time on the court, it should be an easy choice for Frank Vogel to give this unit some more run in the second half of the season.
LeBron James, Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker
56 minutes played, +9, 10.0 net rating
This lineup could also be called First Team All-Lakers Twitter, and it’s been solid in extended action thus far. The main problem with this unit is that it is light on shooting, only converting 34.6% of attempts from deep and putting up a middling offensive rating of exactly 100. It also struggles on the boards with a rebound rate of under 50% and leaks points in the paint with a frontcourt of the undersized Kuzma and Harrell. However, this unit does have three impressive ball-handlers and three smart off-ball slashers in addition to the do-it-all superstar in LeBron. There is potential here, especially as Kuzma grows more comfortable in his expanded role and Horton-Tucker continues developing in his de facto rookie season.
Markieff Morris, Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma
21 minutes played, +17, 37.8 net rating
Again, small sample size alert, and most minutes without LeBron or AD on the floor when both are healthy are in garbage time. But with Davis out, Vogel desperately needs to find a consistent unit to carry the load when James is resting. This squad seems as good an option as any, pairing the starting backcourt with a burgeoning two-way wing defender in Kuzma, a stretch four in Morris and one of the best pick-and-roll partners Schroeder could ask for in Harrell. This unit’s strength thus far has been on defense, with an 80.0 defensive rating, though it remains to be seen whether that number is a mirage once these five go up against more competitive opposing units.