From his first days on the job, President of Basketball operations Magic Johnson preached his vision of “positionless basketball.”
With the makeup of this year’s roster, that philosophy figures to be a vital part of the way that the Lakers play.
“We want to be a positionless team,” LeBron James said at Saturday’s practice. “There’s gonna be times when we’re all playing different positions. I think that’s going to be the benefit of our ball club.”
It helps, of course, that LeBron is perhaps the most positionless player in the history of the game.
The four-time MVP has spent the majority of his career at small forward, but recently has increased his time at power forward. He is also excellent running point and unlocks dangerous small-ball lineups by playing center.
But James is far from the only Laker who can play across several positions. He highlighted Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Michael Beasley as those types of flexible players.
“We have a lot of guys that can play multiple positions,” James said. “It’s going to work well for our team. It’s good. We just have to help rebound.”
Indeed, rebounding will be a challenge for a Lakers team that wants to play small-ball lineups, potentially playing forwards like James, Kuzma and Beasley at center.
The Lakers often played small last season and were one of the league’s top rebounding teams, grabbing the second-most boards (46.4) with the seventh-best differential (+1.6).
Much of this stemmed from the Lakers’ ability to gang-rebound, with several guards and wings — including Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart — constantly crashing the glass. Plus, the team added a couple more strong positional rebounders in Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo.
“We need it,” coach Luke Walton said. “It’s the only way it’ll work for us. If we can’t rebound the basketball, we’ll have to get away from positionless basketball and go back to the good ol’, solid [positions] one through five.”
Lakers Rebounders Among Their Position’s Top Three
*Ball was six games played from officially qualifying for the league leaderboard.
As coach of a team committed to a positionless philosophy, one of Walton’s greatest challenges will be evaluating whether the benefits of playing small ball outweigh the detriments.
Lineups with James or Kuzma at center, promise scoring firepower, but they could potentially weaken the team’s defense or rebounding.
“Even if we’re getting hurt on post-ups from another team’s big, are we outscoring them on the other end by spreading them out and having their five-man have to guard Kuz?” Walton said.
“… We’re always having those debates and we use our analytical department to help prove one way or another.”
It’s hardly surprising that Walton has embraced this positionless, high-paced style.
He recalled growing up watching the Showtime Lakers battle with the Boston Celtics, as both teams constantly ran the floor and featured skilled big men.
“It’s fun to space the floor and have skilled players all over the place,” Walton said. “The game’s getting fast and teams are pushing it. To me, that’s the way the game’s supposed to be played.”
Moe, Zo Out Sunday
Rookie big man Moe Wagner will miss the entirety of the Lakers’ six-game preseason due to a bone contusion in his left knee.
The draft’s 25th overall pick suffered the injury during the Las Vegas Summer League. He will be re-evaluated at the conclusion of the preseason.
Meanwhile, Ball isn’t expected to play in Sunday’s exhibition either, as he continues to work back from July arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Even without suiting up in San Diego, Ball has surprised those in the gym with how quickly he has gotten back to speed in full-contact practices.
“His bounce is there, his speed is there,” James said. “I don’t know if he even had surgery. (laughs)”