It’s almost here, folks. The NBA season is steadily inching closer to us and it’s exciting. After a disappointing end in the playoffs, Lakers fans are once again excited to start the season. Can you blame them? LeBron James and Anthony Davis are on the squad and as long as they are healthy, you have to like their chances.
Before the Lakers tip off against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on October 19th, they will head to training camp. Actually, LeBron decided the Lakers will have their own mini-camp in Las Vegas. They did the same thing before the 2019-20 season where they won the NBA title.
It’s nice to hear the new faces of the Lakers will have some extra time to build chemistry on and off the court. However, there are still some lingering questions going into training camp.
1. What to do with the remaining roster spots?
We are weeks away from training camp and the Lakers have not made a decision on the open spots left on the roster. Now, I understand leaving one roster spot open for potential buyouts, but what about the other one?
It is still baffling that Wes Matthews continues to be unsigned. Granted, it’s not 2013-14 Matthews that averaged 16.4 points per game and shot about 40% from the three, but still. Out of all the available options, Matthews makes the most sense for the Lakers. He is a wing who still defends and can knock down the long range shot. At a minimum contract, Matthews seems like the obvious choice.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still some decent options out there like James Ennis III. His three-point shooting percentage was incredible last season at 43% and the Lakers could definitely use that type of shooting touch.
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for former UCLA Bruins, but I truly feel like Darren Collison has some gas left in the tank. He is trying to make a comeback to the NBA after a two-year hiatus. Now, Collison’s stat sheet will not blow you away, but the most impressive part is his consistency. In his last season before retiring, he averaged 11 points and six assists per game. Also, has shot 40% or better from three in his last four NBA seasons.
Hopefully, the Lakers pick one of the three guys above, but they might have something else up their sleeve.
2. Who will be in the Lakers’ starting five?
So, let’s start with the obvious. LeBron, Davis and Russell Westbrook will be in the starting lineup, but what about the other two positions? This question might not be answered until training camp ends. Also, the Lakers might be entering the season knowing their starting five could consistently change as the year goes on.
However, since I have to answer the question, here is my prediction for the starting five to open the 2021-22 NBA season.
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Kent Bazemore
SF: LeBron James
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Dwight Howard
Now, the first you thing that stands out is that Davis is starting at power forward and not center. Well, even though we should see more of Davis at the center position this year, I still think the Lakers want to preserve his body as much as possible. Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan bring that physicality they had in their championship run in 2019-20.
Now, as far as the shooting guard position, this is one I can see the Lakers rotating consistently. Bazemore is known for his defense and shot 40% from long distance, so he fits the mold the Lakers need for the “shooting” guard spot. Talen Horton-Tucker could technically start at the two, but he seems better suited for the second unit so he can handle the ball a bit more.
Don’t rule out players like Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk, both young players who will be able to run the floor. In Monk’s case, his best attribute is his shooting, but Nunn proved to be a good all-around player in his time in Miami. Also, it will be interesting if the Lakers want to go big and start a player like Trevor Ariza at the two. Ariza is another player known for his defense and three ball, but at age 36, one can only wonder how much juice he has left.
3. Will the Lakers have the same defensive identity?
I think it’s fair to say that the Lakers’ aging roster will likely be the first thing people point out if they struggle defensively. It also doesn’t help that they lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, two excellent perimeter defenders that helped lead the Lakers to have one of the best defenses in the league.
However, Davis has always been the anchor of this defense, so that’s encouraging. One could argue the Lakers have one of the best defenders in the league in Davis, but it’s the supporting cast that can be concerning. Bazemore and Ariza have been known for their defensive prowess, but Ariza is aging so he might not have the same effectiveness. Other than that, the Lakers don’t have “established” defenders. Monk and Nunn will need to improve defensively if they want to see the floor.
Another positive is that Frank Vogel has a reputation of strong defenses, so at least we have the right man for the job. Ultimately, as some have said previously, defense is a lot about hustle and heart and with a championship on the line, that’s all the motivation these players should need to defend at the highest level.