Who Should Be in Los Angeles Lakers' Version of the 'Death Lineup'?

Alex ReglaFeatured Columnist IOctober 8, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 10: Kyle Kuzma #0 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers react against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 10, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Lakers 143-120. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As NBA coaches place the final touches on their pregame motivational speeches and sideline drills, Frank Vogel may instead be staring at his club's depth chart.

After awkwardly landing the Los Angeles Lakers' coaching gig once the team whiffed on other options, one of Vogel's prime chances in proving he is no afterthought comes with configuring an effective rotation—ideally curating L.A.'s own Death Lineup. That's something the team has had poor to mixed results with in the recent past.

Last year, the Lakers ranked 24th in fourth-quarter net rating (minus-3.6). However, in clutch situations, they posted the ninth-best net rating (plus-3.5).

Fortunately, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, among players who have attempted at least 40 shots to either tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in the last five seasons, LeBron James and Anthony Davis ranked first and second in field-goal percentage.

But who will join them in closing out games? Although the roster has several options, three guys stand out.


Danny Green

Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

After yet another drama-filled summer, this year's Lakers roster emerged firmly stronger and more experienced than its most recent perplexing iteration. Among those new additions: two-time NBA champion and three-and-D extraordinaire Danny Green.

Green is no Kawhi Leonard, who the Lakers missed on, but his shooting and defense make him a strong fit alongside James and Davis.

Last season, the Lakers were dead last in three-point percentage on catch-and-shoot attempts (33.5 percent). Green, meanwhile, scorched nets like he was flamethrower-wielding Kurt Russell in The Thing.



With Toronto, Green canned his catch-and-shoot chances from deep at a blistering 47.4 percent clip, behind only reigning Three-Point Contest champion Joe Harris for the highest efficiency among players who attempted at least 300 such shots last season.

Green's shooting prowess alone should make him a must-have in any closing lineup, especially given the attention James and Davis will receive. That's an area last season's squad failed to capitalize on, as the team shot just 32.9 percent from three during final frames.

However, the 6'6" Green is also a great wing defender, even at 32. Among 109 shooting guards last season, he finished first in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus thanks to timely rotations, solid contests and quick hands.


Kyle Kuzma

Although he remains one of the most popular young-ish players in the league, 24-year-old Kyle Kuzma still has a lot to prove after converting a mere 31.9 percent of his "wide-open" threes last season—way down from 39 percent as a rookie.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to the media during media day on September 27, 2019 at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
Chris Elise/Getty Images

However, besides having a team-friendly contract, the team may have kept him around for his ability to operate without the ball. His knack for reacting off the ball was evident in the half court last season, as he was the benefactor of many opportunities James created.


James assisted on 120 Kuzma buckets, 33 more than the next-closest Laker had (JaVale McGee) and 13 more than the trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart combined for, according to PBP stats.

Even with so-so efficiency, Kuzma displayed an ability to score when needed, as he was 13th among all qualified players in points per touch. Among the 57 players to pass the 1,200-point threshold, he did so on the fifth-fewest touches.

Yet while Kuzma improved defensively as a sophomore, he was still a weak link on that end. He hasn't been strong enough to bang down low with bigs and has lacked the technique to stay in front of smaller guards and chase opponents off screens.

For Vogel to trust Kuzma over veterans Jared Dudley or Avery Bradley down the stretch, he will have to be more reliable defensively.

The team has a lot riding on Kuzma after DeMarcus Cousins' torn ACL in August. If he can find his shooting stroke and improve defensively, the Lakers' clutch lineup would be markedly better.


Alex Caruso

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Alex Caruso #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to the media during media day on September 27, 2019 at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Chris Elise/Getty Images

While Green and Kuzma may not surprise anyone, Alex Caruso's inclusion may.

The poster boy for the league's two-way contract earned a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Lakers over the summer after winning over fans with his hard-nosed play, occasional monster throwdowns and semi-ironic nicknames.

Despite often praised in tongue-in-cheek fashion, Caruso has proved in his brief opportunities that he may not only be the most complete point guard on the team but also the best fit. Unlike with the clunky pairing with Rajon Rondo, James synced up with Caruso almost immediately thanks to his shooting and ball movement.

The 6'5" guard shot a whopping 48 percent from three in his 25 games last season. While it's unlikely that blistering efficiency continues, his ability to space the floor gives him a leg up on the notoriously interior-oriented Rondo.

Caruso's movement on offense, exemplified by his off-ball impact, makes him an easier plug-and-play option in most lineups. Being able to set solid back picks to free up teammates, relocate to proper spots on the floor or just make timely cuts have been immensely beneficial when paired with James' creating ability.


When the two shared the floor, the Lakers had a net rating of plus-9.5. When James shared the floor with Rondo, the team had a net rating of minus-4.8. And it was minus-8.1 overall in lineups with Rondo.

But why would Caruso be better than someone like Quinn Cook? In a word: defense.

While Cook is a more respected shooter with his sample size, there lies a heavy risk of the 6'2" guard getting targeted during crunch time. According to BBall Index's defensive data, Cook graded out in the 21st percentile among guards in perimeter defense and in the 1st percentile in interior defense. Caruso, on the other hand, graded out in the 87th and 83rd percentiles, respectively.

Although Caruso isn't nearly as experienced as Rondo or even Cook, he has the necessary skills to mesh beside James, Davis, Green and Kuzma. The question is if Vogel will put faith in a mostly unproven product.

Identifying and constructing a lineup that can squeak out difficult games will be a big first test for Vogel in proving he's the man for the job. Not only in terms of wins and losses but also in changing the narrative.


Stats via Basketball ReferenceNBA.com or Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise noted.

True Hoop partner and analyst and Executive Director of The Pro Training Center, David Thorpe, returns to The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss Thorpe’s Team of players including JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Kevon Looney, and Mike Conley, and to also breakdown the 3-point shots of Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons.


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