The Los Angeles Lakers finally got their first win on Sunday night, beating the Memphis Grizzlies in a 121-118 thriller. Some questions were answered for us, while some questions continue to be unanswered. Let’s dive into four of those questions as it relates to the game, as well as the rest of the season moving forward.
Can Carmelo Anthony help on offense more than he hurts on defense?
The star of the night was none other than Carmelo Anthony as he passed Moses Malone to become 9th all-time in points scored. As Frank Vogel said afterwards, “He didn’t crawl up to that milestone. He blew the doors off it.” Carmelo had 28 points on 10-of-15 field-goal shooting which included 6-of-8 from deep. He led the team in points, as well as plus/minus with +19 (tied with Malik Monk).
There really haven’t been worries with Carmelo’s offense, as we figured we’d get these types of scoring outbursts every so often. Instead, it’s always been his defense that has been a worry. Over his career, he’s probably never been challenged defensively like he has on this team led by Frank Vogel and anchored by Anthony Davis.
Worst of all, Frank Vogel’s defense is predicated on rotations and flying around. Although Anthony has elite footwork and shooting still late in his career, he lacks any speed and athleticism he may have had in the past for the Nuggets and Knicks. The lack of speed specifically puts him at a disadvantage in this defense, something the great fellas at the Laker Film Room podcast have mentioned recently.
However, if you put Anthony in the right lineups, he still has that basketball intuition that can allow him to poke some balls out here and there (he also had a steal and two blocks in the win against the Grizzlies). Putting him alongside Anthony Davis helps; the latter can help bolster their frontcourt with speed to cover up for Carmelo’s lack thereof. This doesn’t work as well when pairing Carmelo in the frontcourt with someone like Dwight Howard, as their combination of speed makes a turtle look fast. This has shown in the statistics: Carmelo and Davis have a 21.7 Net Rating together so far while Carmelo and Howard having a -13.5 Net Rating (120.0 Defensive Rating for the latter).
It’s the smallest sample size imaginable in one game, but even with half of the offensive output that Carmelo generated, he seems like a perfectly suitable four to have at times at least until Trevor Ariza makes his debut in a couple of months.
Will Austin Reaves be in the rotation for the whole season?
After being held out of the season opener, Austin Reaves played just under 18 minutes on Sunday night. He came in second behind Carmelo and Monk in terms of the best plus/minus stats on the team, with the Lakers outscoring the Grizzlies by 18 points while he was on the court.
Reaves didn’t stuff the stat-sheet like Carmelo (or even Monk) did, tallying only four points and three assists in his time out there. However, he proved to be a player that Vogel could throw in whenever he wanted as a great defender to fly around on rotations. Not only that, but he has also shown the great ability of sticking with offensive players one-on-one without fouling or losing them entirely. There’s definitely something to be said about that, especially given the fact that he is an undrafted rookie who has had to guard players like Ja Morant and Chris Paul in the past few days.
Rajon Rondo did not play in the game, while Avery Bradley only played 2 minutes. If trends are to continue, it seems as if that Reaves has leapfrogged those two players in Vogel’s rotations. However, the question above is regarding the “whole season”. I am not entirely sure if Reaves will be getting minutes the whole season, as we are still yet to see Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker, two players who will certainly eat into his minutes.
However, we’re still unsure of what we will get out of Nunn and Horton-Tucker defensively. We don’t know Nunn very much at all, and although Vogel has said that THT was challenged defensively in the offseason, we still have to see those challenges turned into execution for the player entering his third year. Reaves has already shown more than what THT has really ever shown in terms of team defense, so it’ll be interesting to see once those two players return and everything shakes out.
Answer: Unsure at this time
Will the Lakers starting lineup succeed?
Do we all know more than Frank Vogel when it comes to basketball and this Lakers team? No, we don’t. However, I’m sure everyone reading this has heard the complaints surrounding the starting lineup, specifically when it comes to the starting center DeAndre Jordan and how he hurts the individual impacts of our superstar trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.
Jordan’s game is a little long in the tooth, as he just can’t jump or run like he used to. Combine that with the fact that he’s never been able to shoot farther than five feet from the basket, sprinkle in a low defensive efficiency, and you’ve got a problem on your hands. That problem reared its ugly head in a huge way on Sunday, as the starting lineup was outscored by the Grizzlies by 15 points in its 13 minutes played.
Again, we’re dealing with super small sample sizes here. But still, this wasn’t a problem that was unforeseen by pundits covering the team, or even analysts around the league. There’s a reason that the Brooklyn Nets dumped Jordan off after last season, despite his two best friends Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving being the reason he was there in the first place.
Answer: Not 100% sure, but come on now…this lineup stinks.
Will the Lakers starting lineup change?
This is definitely the more debatable question regarding the lineup. Frank Vogel has shown in the past that he does not like to change his starting lineup. It was honestly somewhat shocking when he decided to make a midseason change last season, inserting the newly signed Andre Drummond into the five spot, benching Marc Gasol.
Many people covering the Lakers expect this lineup to change sooner rather than later, but I wouldn’t bet money on that. If you take a look at what Frank Vogel said regarding the starting lineup before the season began, you’d see he said he wants a “consistent” starting lineup for the team. In addition to that, he said prior to the preseason starting that the LeBron, Davis, and the front office would all have inputs on the team’s starting lineup, showing that this lineup is not only co-signed by Vogel, but by the most powerful Lakers as well.
Although the deficiencies given Russell Westbrook’s inclusion are far more glaring, Vogel did start a center all season alongside Davis during the championship year in JaVale McGee. Vogel then benched McGee for most of the 2020 NBA Playoffs as he unleashed AD at the five lineups all over the Western Conference opponents.
We might be in for a long, long season complaining about this starting lineup. I personally don’t think it can last past Christmas, however, as its weaknesses are far too glaring with the strengths of AD at the five lineups far too obvious to ignore.