Would changing the starting lineup help the Lakers?
Lakers’ coach Byron Scott said he will change the starting lineup after the loss to the Celtics on Friday. Are there any adjustments that could help Los Angeles improve significantly?
The Lakers are having a miserable season. After winning a couple of games against Eastern Conference teams, Los Angeles was crushed by the Celtics on Friday and now stand at 5-15, the second worse mark in the West. Even though the playoffs already seem out of reach at this point, coach Byron Scott is hell-bent on righting the ship. He told reporters after the game that he plans to make changes in the starting lineup, as transcribed by the Los Angeles Times:
“We’re 20 games into the season, which is a fourth of the season. It’s time to make a few changes,” Scott said, declining to name specifics. “One, two, I don’t know how many I’m going to make right now.”
It’s understandable for Scott to want to make some changes to a group of starters that is getting outscored by 15 points per 100 possessions and has logged the most minutes in the league among five-man units. Yet it’s unclear exactly what tweaks would improve the starting lineup when the bench isn’t exactly teeming with talent. Let’s see what moves Scott could make and whether they could help or not.
Move Wesley Johnson to the bench and start Nick Young
The starters’ main problem comes on the defensive end, where they are allowing 117.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would rank them last in the league in defensive efficiency and by far the worst of any unit that has been on the court together at least 200 minutes. Wesley Johnson isn’t exactly contributing much on either end but his presence seems to be particularly detrimental on defense, with the Lakers allowing 13.1 more points per 100 possessions when he is on the court as opposed to sitting.
Nick Young is not known for his defense but his numbers bear out that he’s been holding his own and the three most used lineups that include him have a positive net rating. Johnson has been up and down all season long in the role of 3-and-D player, shooting a below league average 32.3 percent on three-pointers. Young is at 43.4 percent from deep and he is also able to create his own shot, something the starting lineup would find useful. The downside is that starting Young — easily the most obvious move — would hurt the bench’s ability to score.
Start Young for Johnson and Price for Lin
A good way to make sure the bench continues to have a shot creator without Young would be to have Jeremy Lin come off the bench and have Ronnie Price start in his place. With Young and Kobe Bryant starting, the need for Lin’s playmaking would diminish. Price is not a stopper but he goes after it on defense, which would give the Lakers a second defensive-minded player in the unit, next to Jordan Hill.
Scott might lean this way if the minutes he’s been giving to Lin are any indication. Lin has seen his playing time severely reduced during the past two games. Despite having a good game against the Celtics, he was on the court for less than 20 minutes. Perhaps a move to the bench would allow him to dominate the ball a little more and get back on track and to his coach’s good graces.
Start Ed Davis instead of Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer has the worst individual defensive rating of any Laker. That stat doesn’t always tell the whole story but Boozer’s defensive shortcomings have been well documented by now. Boozer is not a rim protector, allowing 54 percent shooting at the rim, a below average mark for a big man. His defensive rebound percentage is at a career low. The only thing he can do well is provide complementary scoring, which would be welcomed off the bench.
The problem is starting Davis would choke away what little spacing the starting unit is able to create right now. To say that the Lakers are a bad three-point shooting team would be an understatement. So Boozer’s ability to hit mid-range jumpers is extremely valuable to them. Jordan Hill can hit that from that range on occasion but he’s arguably taking too many shots outside the paint as it is. What Scott needs to figure out before making this move is whether the defensive improvement would be worth a potential decline on offense.
Do all of the above
If Scott is truly determined to make serious changes, he could go back to the drawing board and start Price, Bryant, Young, Davis and Hill. That lineup would probably offer the best defensive combination the Lakers can muster while still retaining some shot creation, courtesy of Bryant and Young. The bench would unit would be comprised of Lin, Ellington, Johnson, Boozer and Sacre, all of whom could blend in seamlessly with some of the starters.
It would be a huge risk to make such big changes mid-season, when players have already gotten used to roles and teammates. But if the Lakers want to change their identity, it might would be worth considering a major shake-up. There’s really not a lot to lose by doing so.
It’s impossible to know yet whether Byron Scott will go through with the announced changes to the starting unit. Going through the roster, it’s clear that there are no obvious answers, no magical solutions. What the Lakers need is for the season to be over as soon as possible and no lineup changes can accelerate the process.