Lakers' Updated Rotation After Early Free-Agent Contracts

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 12, 2021

Lakers' Updated Rotation After Early Free-Agent Contracts

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Some level of change seemed likely for the Los Angeles Lakers after last season's disappointing first-round exit.

    As soon as the 2021 NBA offseason opened, though, L.A. embarked on a face lift so dramatic most plastic surgeons wouldn't attempt it.

    Franchise pillars LeBron James and Anthony Davis stuck around, as did support players Marc Gasol and Talen Horton-Tucker. The rest of the roster was reshaped around them, headlined by a mega-move for Russell Westbrook and a free-agency agreement with James' close friend (and 10-time All-Star) Carmelo Anthony.

    If not for the famed purple and gold uniforms, the Lakers may not be recognizable. It's a perfect time, then, to freshen up on all the new faces with an updated overview of their 2021-22 rotation.


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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    Point Guard: Russell Westbrook

    Shooting Guard: Wayne Ellington

    Small Forward: LeBron James

    Power Forward: Anthony Davis

    Center: Marc Gasol

    Sixty percent of this group is set in stone—and fascinating as can be.

    The Westbrook-James-Davis trio has a chance to rank among the very best in basketball. But it is clunky, both in terms of overlapping talents and a general lack of space. There isn't a knockdown shooter in the mix, and James and Westbrook both work best with the ball in their hands.

    The success of those three will come down to two things: health and Westbrook's ability to adapt. The former is unpredictable. The latter kind of is, too, though optimistic L.A. fans will let their imaginations run wild at the thought of Westbrook flying out on fast breaks and repurposing his half-court game to include timely cuts, ball screens and the occasional putback jam.

    The other two spots will be up for grabs in camp, with the basic arguments for Ellington and Gasol being made on the shooting front.


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    Point Guard: Kendrick Nunn

    Shooting Guard: Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk

    Small Forward: Kent Bazemore

    Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza

    Center: Dwight Howard

    Most of these position labels are fluid. Other than Howard, all of these players could find minutes at multiple spots, and with Horton-Tucker's unique combination of ball skills, length and strength, he could see floor time at any one of them.

    If you had to pick the likeliest player to lead the reserves in minutes, Nunn edges out Horton-Tucker as the favorite. The Lakers will probably give the 20-year-old as many minutes as he can handle, but Nunn is more established. He's effectively an undersized scoring guard, but he can put points on the board and make basic reads as a passer.

    Anthony and Ariza should be the classic offense-defense platoon with matchups potentially dictating who gets the call any given night. Bazemore brings a little something to both ends especially when his three-ball is falling. Monk is the wild card; he can really heat up as both a shooter and attacker, but his shot selection and decision-making can get him into trouble.

Roster Questions

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    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Want to know how the Lakers plan to approach the hardwood next season? Keep an eye on the starting shooting guard slot.

    In a perfect world, L.A. would have a three-and-D player in the Danny Green/Kentavious Caldwell-Pope mold to throw out there. But that option no longer exists, leaving head coach Frank Vogel to decide between shooting and defense.

    Shooting seems the biggest need given the spacing concerns with the stars, which is why Ellington, a career 38.2 percent three-point shooter, gets our nod. But Bazemore could warrant consideration if he shoots it well during the preseason. And don't rule out Horton-Tucker or even Monk forcing his way into that spot, as none of the veterans have close to a tight grip on the gig.

    The split of minutes for Anthony and Ariza could be interesting, too, though again that might come down to an offense or defense decision. Anthony's shooting should be an asset if he finds someone he can guard. Ariza has lost some of his defensive versatility to age, but he can still pester big wings and forwards, and he could up his floor time by hitting threes at an average clip or above it.

    The starting center role might change hands between Gasol and Howard several times in the regular season, but the most important development might be which sticks in the rotation once the postseason starts. That's usually when the Lakers lean heavily on Davis at center, so it's up to those bigs to prove they still deserve a role once the switch happens.