In a series of articles leading up to the start of the Lakers’ preseason on October 3rd, we’ll be looking at the best options for the team’s starting shooting guard and what those options could bring to the lineup. This is the first article of the series, taking a look at newcomer Kent Bazemore and why he could be an option for Frank Vogel to use at the starting two spot.
Before the Los Angeles Lakers even began filling out their roster, the trade to acquire Russell Westbrook indicated something immediately. Despite it being a continued focus of Frank Vogel and the team’s greatest strength in the past two seasons, the Lakers were ready to make a sacrifice of their defense to greatly improve their offense.
That doesn’t mean that Vogel can’t comprise a scheme that keeps the Lakers near the top of the best defensive teams in the league this season. However, it seems doubtful that the team leads the league in Defensive Rating again. The team has lost considerable talent in their perimeter defense after they lost Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, with that loss putting even more of a burden on the team’s frontcourt to clean up drives from the Western Conference’s best guards.
Speaking of the frontcourt, that loss on the perimeter may be felt even more with the starting lineup if Anthony Davis doesn’t start at the five. That seemed like a possibility when reports came out earlier in the summer, but it’s looking less and less likely now following the signing of DeAndre Jordan. As the team is seemingly replicating the frontcourt formula of the 2019-20 roster, you wouldn’t be insane to assume that Jordan or Dwight Howard would start at the five this season just as JaVale McGee did back then. My condolences to the members of Lakers Twitter that were waking up from dreams of AD at the five 100% of the time this season.
To shore up the defense within that potential starting lineup, former-turned-current Laker Kent Bazemore may be just the guy to insert at the two position. Looking at the scatter plot below from B-Ball Index, you’ll see how Bazemore is far and away the best defensive guard/wing on the team with the best defensive impact when looking at D-LEBRON as well as the best defensive versatility which will come handy with the switching that the Lakers will likely employ with their guards and wings.
Bazemore has a height fitting of a shooting guard at 6’5”, but it’s his insane 7’0” wingspan that maximizes his defensive versatility. This wingspan allows him to defend 1-4 (Bazemore guarded the point guard position more than any other position last season according to B-Ball Index), all while being a major disruptor to opposing defenses. According to B-Ball Index, he’s in the 91st percentile in terms of passing lane defense which is also evidenced in his 1.80 steals per 75 possessions which had him tied for 20th in the entire NBA (of players who played at least 1000 minutes last season).
He won’t be a negative on the offensive end either. Last season, Bazemore was in the 85th percentile of the NBA in terms of catch-and-shoot three-pointers, something he will be asked to do many times in this potential starting lineup. Those numbers may drop a tad this season given the fact that the Lakers will not have as good of spacing as a Warriors team with the likes of Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Kelly Oubre, but still, Bazemore is one of the better spacing options for the team to use at the starting shooting guard position (although Wayne Ellington is the best option).
Bazemore does have his deficiencies, coming in the form of his shot creation and off-ball movement. His poor shot creation isn’t too much of a worry given the fact that he will almost always be on the floor with LeBron James or Russell Westbrook. However, the average off-ball movement is a bit of a worry at the starting two position, especially given the fact that he will probably need off-ball movement to generate the types of open looks he had with the Warriors last season given how poor the Lakers’ spacing may be at times. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was always a speedy menace to opposing defenses, flying around multiple screens on the weak side to get an eventual open three. In B-Ball Index’s rating of Movement Impact per 75 possessions, Caldwell-Pope was in the 83rd percentile of the NBA while Bazemore was in the 19th.
No matter his possible deficiencies on offense, the efficiencies he brings on the defensive end cannot be denied. With the inherent sacrifice on defense that Vogel will have to make with the addition of Westbrook and the subtraction of players previously on the roster, Kent Bazemore may be the obvious insertion into the starting lineup to maintain a base level of defensive competency to start the game. Also, looking at the quote below that Bazemore gave about defense in February 2020 to Sacramento Kings writer Alex Kramers, it’d be no surprise to me that the defensive-minded Vogel may take a natural liking to him.
“It’s all I’ve known, pretty much, growing up,” Bazemore said. “I was never on any high-scoring teams. In high school we scored, like, 45 points a night; college was low-to-mid 60s. So it was always a physical style of play, defensive, just stopping other teams. That was our focus every night. We were never really focused on offense. Just running good sets and moving the ball, and then defensively, is where I learned how to make an impact on the game.”