With Los Angeles Lakers role players Dennis Schroder (finger) and Troy Brown Jr. (back) definitively sidelined for the team’s Tuesday regular season opener with injuries, possible starter Russell Westbrook day-to-day with a sore hamstring, plus Lonnie Walker Jr. and Anthony Davis set to miss time, the starting lineup L.A. trots out against the Warriors might not even be head coach Darvin Ham’s ideal first five.
Ham indicated today to reporters that he will “likely” inform them about his opening night starting lineup on Monday, according to Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet.
The Lakers’ first-season head coach experimented with six different starting lineups during the team’s 1-5 preseason. The most recent starting five did not include big man Anthony Davis, who will absolutely start now that he has been given the green light to do so. But even then, will Davis start at the four or the five?
We can certainly throw out one of the team’s starting lineups: a starting five of two-way rookie point guard Scotty Pippen Jr., second-year shooting guard Austin Reaves, rookie second-rounder and small forward Max Christie, power forward Wenyen Gabriel, and center Thomas Bryant. The only reason these five were employed so liberally is that this Lakers squad faced off against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Las Vegas on the second night of a back-to-back. Why the NBA mandates any back-to-back games in its preseason is beyond the pay grade of this reporter.
For the team’s first preseason game, a 105-75 blowout loss to the Sacramento Kings on October 3rd, Ham went with a starting five of Westbrook at point guard, 6’3″ Kendrick Nunn at shooting guard, LeBron James at small forward, Davis at power forward, and Damian Jones at center. In the next contest, a 119-115 overtime loss to the much-better Phoenix Suns, Davis sat with lower back tightness. Ham responded by moving LeBron James up a position to power forward, and starting the 6’9″ Gabriel at center. Ham also elevated Patrick Beverley and Austin Reaves along the wing, while keeping Westbrook the starter at point guard.
In L.A.’s fourth game (as we mentioned previously, we’ll be skipping the October 6th Timberwolves preseason contest, which was surrendered before it even started), an October 9th win against the Golden State Warriors, Davis returned to the lineup, while James and Westbrook rested. Ham started Davis at center, kept Reaves in the starting lineup but moved him down a spot to point guard (he’s a solid passer), and started a newly healthy Lonnie Walker IV at shooting guard. Ham started Christie at small forward and Juan Toscano-Anderson at power forward.
For an October 12th rematch with Minnesota, James and Westbrook returned. Ham shifted them back into the starting lineup, alongside incumbent starters Walker and Davis. Beverley returned to the starting lineup, playing nominal shooting guard (despite being all of 6’1″) next to Westbrook. Walker injured his ankle and would miss the subsequent game.
Davis’s back apparently flared up again, and he had to sit for the team’s preseason finale, a 133-86 demolition at the hands of the younger Kings. Ham demoted Westbrook to a bench role and pretended it wasn’t a demotion (it definitely was), while moving Beverley to point guard and bringing in Reaves to start at shooting guard. Whether or not the injured Lonnie Walker IV would have started at the two during that game is unclear. Christie started at small forward, James played power forward, and Damian Jones made his second start at center.
This writer is going to venture a guess as to the team’s starting five on opening night. I predict that Ham will start a new, seventh starting lineup in as many games (including the aforementioned preseason): Patrick Beverley at point guard (although he had a rough night on Friday), Lonnie Walker IV at shooting guard, Austin Reaves at small forward, LeBron James at power forward, and Anthony Davis at center.
Check back tomorrow to see how wrong I am!