The topic that any coach gets asked the most about is the lineup.
Who’s going to start, and when – and with whom – is everybody else going to play? Heading into the 2019-20 Lakers season, the starting PG spot likely offers the most intrigue.
After all, coach Frank Vogel doesn’t need to mention that LeBron James and Anthony Davis will start at the 3 and the 4 … we all know that. Meanwhile, key free agent Danny Green appears to have an edge at the 2 thanks to the spacing he provides on offense and his ability to defend multiple positions.
At center, even if 2018-19 starter JaVale McGee has an early edge, Dwight Howard has looked healthy and explosive early in camp and will get a look.
“I thought Dwight and JaVale have been very good, if not great since practice started,” said LeBron after Monday’s practice, which he spent on the sideline resting alongside fellow vet Jared Dudley. “I love what they’re able to do. Those are two guys that stood out.”
But at point guard?
At Saturday’s Day 1 of practice, it was Rajon Rondo playing with the 1st team. On Sunday, it was Avery Bradley. Meanwhile, Alex Caruso has been a steady presence with the 2nd team, and will definitely be getting minutes and the opportunity for more as the season goes on. But it would appear that Rondo and Bradley have the first chance to work with the 1’s.
As Joey Ramirez wrote for us yesterday, it was that Day 2 line up, and Bradley in particular, that drew rave reviews.
“All anybody’s talking about is Avery Bradley’s tenaciousness,” said Vogel. “That speaks volumes about what he’s been able to show in the first couple of days.”
“Avery continues to stand out obviously, just with his defensive tenacity,” echoed LeBron.
Bradley isn’t a traditional point guard; he’s played more shooting guard on offense, which speaks to his career average of 1.8 assists. But the 28-year-old is excellent at defending point guards, and is a career 36.4 percent 3-point shooter (most recently, 38.4 percent in 14 games with Memphis last spring).
That makes him a possible fit as a starter on a team that has LeBron, who’s going to initiate the offense more often than not anyway.
Should Vogel want more of a traditional playmaker at the point guard spot, he can turn to Rondo.
When we spoke last week, Vogel mentioned how he expects a “complete reversal” from last season in how the numbers look with Rondo and LeBron on the court together, and added that Rondo had “shot the heck out of the basketball from the 3-point line” over the summer. Vogel has been equally complimentary of Rondo’s start to training camp, and seems excited by his play.
In theory, defenses would honor Bradley’s jump shot more than Rondo’s, but Vogel did point out that Rondo’s been shooting around league average in his last four seasons from three (36.5%, 37.6%, 33.3%, 35.9%). Teams haven’t traditionally rotated out aggressively to discourage Rondo’s shot, thus potentially clogging the paint, but that could change if he converted the likely wide-open looks that likely come playing alongside both James and Davis.
Rondo also has very few peers in the NBA as far as knowledge of the game, and that can help ease the transition of a team with several new pieces trying to fast track chemistry and cohesion. He’s a reason why Vogel’s been impressed after three days of practice.
“It’s better than any team I’ve been a part of,” said Vogel. “Guys pick things up quickly. There’s really very little that I’m going to introduce that they haven’t seen already.”
The thing is, when you have two of the NBA’s best five players on one team, there’s some room for experimentation. LeBron and AD make so much happen, and often quite easily, that Vogel could take a look at how Rondo fits for a stretch of games, and then move to Bradley, or Caruso, or even Quinn Cook – the best shooter of the bunch – in certain situations. There can be at least some fluidity of line ups around the All-Stars.
“I think throughout my coaching career I’ve tried to give it a five-game look,” said Vogel about his approach to making changes to a rotation. “But sometimes I’ll say let’s look at five games with different combinations with bigs.”
Sure, the line-up questions are interesting, especially at the PG spot, but Vogel is simply taking things day-by-day, and likes what he sees thus far.
“Really good,” he concluded on Monday. “Cautiously optimistic. There’s a lot of really good signs about what we can be. The energy and the spirit has been off the charts. The intensity of practices and guys pushing each other, being willing to pull for each other and listening to each other has been really good. Obviously we have a long way to go with all the details and execution pieces, but I feel good.”