Predicting Los Angeles Lakers' Opening Night Starting Lineup for 2013-14 Season
Chances are, the Los Angeles Lakers will need some time to sort out their starting lineup before they take to the Staples Center court against the rival Los Angeles Clippers on the NBA's opening night.
At a few spots, anyway. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol have all but sewn up their respective spots in Mike D'Antoni's "Fave Five," assuming the injury bug doesn't intervene once again.
But with Metta World Peace gone, Gasol sliding over to center and Kobe Bryant still working his way back from a torn Achilles, the Lakers have three spots that, at this point, are up for grabs—and no shortage of faces, old and new, to do the reaching.
The coaching staff may not be ready, willing or able to streamline the competition for those jobs just yet. On the other hand, we here at Bleacher Report aren't afraid to take a crack at it. Click on to see who we think will be the first to don the purple and gold during the 2013-14 regular season.
Point Guard: Steve Nash
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Surprise, surprise: Steve Nash is slated to start at point guard for the Lakers this season.
Assuming, of course, that injuries don't intervene to the extent they did last season. Nash missed a career-worst 32 games during the 2012-13 regular season on account of a leg injury suffered during a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Halloween.
The offense to which Nash returned hardly resembled the one he'd stewarded for Mike D'Antoni during their days together with the Phoenix Suns. Rather than pushing the pace with athletic wings, spreading the floor with three-point shooters and running the pick-and-roll with mobile bigs, Nash was often relegated to working off the ball while Kobe Bryant orchestrated the offense as he saw fit, with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol venturing into the post.
Kobe's absence and Dwight's departure should clear things up a bit for Nash. So, too, should the Lakers' new stock of swingmen—which now includes youthful gunners like Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry—allow Nash to reboot some of that old "Seven Seconds or Less" magic, especially with the rest of the team enjoying the benefit of a full training camp under Mike D'Antoni.
Shooting Guard: Steve Blake
At first glance, Steve Blake would seem an odd choice to start at shooting guard until Kobe Bryant gets back, unless you're drawn to the notion of an All-Steve starting backcourt. At 6'3" and approximately 172 pounds, Blake is much closer to a point guard than a shooting guard as far as size is concerned.
That could be problematic for the Lakers, who struggled defensively last season, especially when it came to handling penetration from the perimeter. At 33, Blake lacks the youth and athleticism to keep up with a number of backcourt foes. And, after missing 37 games due to injury last season, Blake is no lock to stay healthy enough to play every day, much less in a starter's capacity.
With that being said, Blake brings plenty of positives to the table that should serve him well in Kobe's stead.
First and foremost, he's a solid standstill shooter who should work well off the ball with Nash. He was the Lakers' second-sharpest marksman behind only Nash, converting his three-point attempts at a 42.1 percent clip—the third-best mark of his career. Having Nash and Blake on the floor at the same time should work wonders for the Lakers' spacing in D'Antoni's spread pick-and-roll system.
On the other end of the floor, what Blake lacks in physical ability, he makes up for with his basketball IQ. According to NBA.com, the Lakers actually gave up fewer points per 100 possessions when Blake was on the court.
None of this is to suggest that Blake is the perfect fit, but for a stopgap solution, he should fare well enough until Kobe comes back. And, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Blake is currently the front-runner to be just that.
Small Forward: Nick Young
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With Kobe out indefinitely, the Lakers will need a willing shooter to get buckets and keep D'Antoni's offense humming.
Enter Nick Young. The L.A. native and Reseda Cleveland High School alum is far and away the most prolific perimeter scorer of those brought in by the Lakers during the offseason. He averaged a career-high 17.4 points per game in 2010-11, when he made 40 starts in 64 games for the Washington Wizards.
Like the Mamba, Swaggy P isn't one to shy away from shots, especially bad ones. Say what you will about Young's suspect selection (and career field-goal percentage of .427), but the guy's not afraid to take (and make) the bad shots that will inevitably result from slow-developing possessions from time to time. To his credit, Young posted a more-than-passable effective field-goal percentage—which accounts for the added value of three-point shots—of .546 on shots taken with three seconds or fewer left on the clock last season, per 82games.com.
Someone has to take those shots, and until Kobe gets back, Young's as well-equipped as anyone on the Lakers' roster to do just that.
Power Forward: Jordan Hill
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, the race for the starting job at power forward in L.A. is currently up for grabs, with five competitors (Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly) in the hunt. But while D'Antoni might not be ready to eliminate anyone from the competition just yet, it's not all that difficult to picture how it will probably play out.
Johnson is far closer to a wing than he is to a power forward, especially on the defensive end, where his 6'7", 205-pound frame would have a heap of trouble handling bruising bigs.
Neither Williams nor Kelly were in the league last year; Williams was in China while Kelly was still in college at Duke. Williams would seem the better bet to play between these two, given his experience playing for D'Antoni in New York and Kelly's ongoing recovery from a broken foot.
That likely leaves the race with two "horses," Kaman and Hill. Kaman has the mid-range game to hang as a power forward in D'Antoni's offense but is a much more natural fit at center. If there's anything we learned about Mike D. from his handling of Pau Gasol last season, it's that he's not too keen to play two towers together, even less so if it means slotting one of them out of position.
Hill, then, would seem the best fit of the bench, as much by process of elimination as by his own skill set. His energy, athleticism and toughness on defense and the boards is exactly what a starting five full of shooters and finesse players needs. Hill's also been hard at work sharpening his mid-range jumper, and, with his experience playing for D'Antoni in New York and L.A., should have a leg up over Kaman in the head coach's eyes.
Center: Pau Gasol
If there's any reason to be upbeat about the Lakers' early-season prospects, it's that they're already set at the two most important positions in basketball: point guard and center.
Or should be, anyway. Pau Gasol's fitness for the gig, from a health perspective, remains a major questions for this Lakers squad. The sinewy Spaniard missed a career-worst 33 games last season due to nagging knee and foot problems and is still recovering from offseason procedures meant to ease the pressure on said knees.
On the bright side, Gasol is fully participating in practice and hopes to be ready to play in the Lakers' first preseason game on October 5, per team reporter Mike Trudell. That's great news for Lakers fans, who should already expect Gasol to be plenty motivated to bounce back in a big way from his disappointing 2012-13 campaign. Between his impending free agency and a more comfortable (and more prominent) role in the offense, Gasol's productivity should return to a level more closely resembling the one he once inhabited as a four-time All-Star.
It'll help, too, that he won't have a Dwight Howard or an Andrew Bynum to appease in the middle.
Indeed, for the first time since his initial half-season in L.A., Gasol will have the Lakers' center spot all to himself.
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