Training camp hasn’t even arrived yet, but the Los Angeles Lakers already have a frontcourt logjam, especially at the power forward position.
The team currently has six players on the roster between the heights of 6’9” and 7’0”, and that doesn’t take into account those most likely to play the small forward position, like Wesley Johnson or Xavier Henry.
For that matter, Kobe Bryant and Nick Young are also available to slide over to the 3 from their natural shooting guard slots. There are a lot of swing possibilities this season.
So how will the Lakers’ new head coach Byron Scott sort out this quagmire? We need answers here!
The logical response is that it’s way too early to know. A rotation will be sorted out through training camp and the early part of the season. The only starter that’s written in stone is the still-reigning face of the franchise—the all-time scoring leader for the purple and gold.
A Centennial kid asked Scott who would start for him: "Other than Kobe, it's up for grabs."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) August 19, 2014
That said, Scott recently sat down with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, discussing the freedom he’ll allow on offense, the responsibility he’ll demand on the defensive end and various rotational possibilities until it all gets sorted out. He expressed high hopes for Johnson at the wing position:
I think Wesley has not played to his potential at all. He's shown signs, but I think the kid is so talented, I'm really hoping it can be a break out year for him. Now, obviously, he has to come to camp and win that spot, and that's on him. Or I could also put Kobe at that spot and put Steve next to Jeremy in the backcourt. There’s some flexibility there. But I've always been intrigued with Wesley, and I thought Xavier was excellent until he got hurt last year. But when you include Kobe and Swaggy, the wing is probably our strongest position.
The team has also invited 6’8” small forward Roscoe Smith to training camp, according to Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv and NBA.com. A former standout at UNLV and UConn, Smith is an excellent rebounder who went undrafted in June. He played in all five Lakers summer league games the following month.
Smith probably won’t survive training camp cuts—there are simply too many frontcourt players as it is. He could certainly land a job with the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, however, where he could develop and potentially earn a call-up.
And then there are the continuing rumors of a possible Michael Beasley signing, stemming from a workout for the Lakers in July that was reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA.
Michael Beasley still getting looks is ultimate proof of the "high lottery pick = extended shelf life regardless of anything" principle.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) July 30, 2014
Think of it this way—Beasley’s a worse rebounder than even Ryan Kelly. And, help defense is something he prefers to be on the receiving end of. In other words, no, he wouldn't be a good fit with Scott's expectations of team responsibility.
On to the power forward position and the divining rod of wisdom.
Carlos Boozer will be the starting power forward at the beginning of the season but, as was the case with the Chicago Bulls, will find himself sitting at crucial second- and fourth-quarter junctures, especially when the game’s on the line. His ability to score and cherry-pick rebounds will lose its appeal as the season goes on, and he’ll consistently give up minutes to Julius Randle, who will be on a developmental fast track.
Randle is a star of the future for the Lakers, and it won’t take long for his dominance to emerge. He’ll be phased in as he develops and learns the system, and by season’s end, he’ll be the clear starter of the future. A classic low-post double-double machine, the Lakers’ No. 7 draft pick also likes to step out to mid-range, where he’ll survey the floor and use his ball-handling skills to either drive to the basket or pass to the open man.
When asked by Trudell about Randle’s mid-range versus post-up game, Scott replied:
The one thing I’ve seen is that Julius can do both. He doesn’t mind banging in the post, but he’s also capable facing up from 15 feet and either going around someone or pulling up. Having that type of versatility is only going to make him better, especially with some of the things I want to do on offense.
At a reedy 6’11”, Ryan Kelly is by no means a low-post banger, but he did show a surprising quickness on the defensive end last season, either staying in front of his man in the paint or rushing out to contest shooters. But, while Scott will appreciate the effort, it is more likely that Kelly’s role this season will come through his perimeter shooting ability. Asked by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News how he would fit with a new head coach, Kelly replied: “Teams will always need somebody who can shoot. For guys my size, I can fit into any system.”
Kelly won’t get the same development minutes that he did last season under Mike D’Antoni, but he’ll be given strategic opportunities to spread the floor and score.
Heading for home, it’s time to sort out the logjam at center.
When Lakers management decided to pony up $9 million per year for Jordan Hill’s services, it was with the express purpose of locking down a starting center. Hill’s signature energy and appetite for rebounding will appeal to Scott’s traditionalist sensibilities, but there will also have to be a rationing of minutes—the reckless 6’10” big man has a tendency to wear down and get hurt over the course of a season.
Also at 6’10” is Ed Davis, who came into the league as a power forward but will see solid minutes this season at the 5. Davis was originally drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2010 but was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in January 2013. The Lakers signed him for a two-year, $2 million deal this summer that will pay $981,084 this season. He’s a hard worker with the ability to alter shots at the rim.
Scott recently remarked via a Lakers Twitter feed question-and-answer session, “I like Ed’s size. He’s very good around the basket and can also block shots. He’s gonna have to play in the post.”
Utility center Robert Sacre received extended playing time last season, logging substantially more minutes than Chris Kaman and, in fact, starting 13 out of 65 games. That won’t happen this time around, unless it’s due to an injury situation. At 7'0" and 263 pounds, the hard-working big man will earn the majority of his playing opportunities through size matchups and garbage minutes.
When it comes down to it, this is a crowded frontcourt without overwhelming size. The two tallest players—Sacre and Kelly—are the most likely candidates for shaved minutes, leaving a manageable grouping of four players to share the bulk of responsibility at the center and power forward slots. It will be interesting to see if Davis with his defensive instincts, as well as an ability to finish above the rim, will become a meaningful part of the Lakers’ frontcourt future.
Boozer, meanwhile, could find himself with a one-and-done season as an amnesty pickup, unless he’s willing to put in a renewed defensive effort at this late stage in his career.
Finally, as Scott indicated, Johnson and Henry will get chances to prove themselves at the 3, with Bryant and Young also available to fill in the gaps if necessary.
The newest Lakers frontcourt may seem crowded now, but it will be the willingness to play hard on both ends that will earn minutes and meaningful roles. When the logjam thins out, you’ll know why.