Obviously, Mike D’Antoni will continue to tinker with his lineup — as he should — during preseason and will hopefully have a solid lineup in place should Kobe Bryant not be available for the start of the season. Further tweaks may be necessary depending match-ups on a game-by-game basis. Personally, I see the starting lineup for the first game looking like this:
- PG: Steve Nash
- SG: Steve Blake
- SF: Wesley Johnson
- PF: Jordan Hill
- C: Pau Gasol
This allows D’Antoni to play all three point guards significant minutes, while also providing a solid defensive lineup. Although D’Antoni is known for the premium he places on offense, it appears as though defense has truly been the emphasis since the start of training camp, with Kurt Rambis taking the reigns at that end of the floor. Per Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times, Rambis had this to say recently:
“The motto we’re trying to send to the players is that our team defense has to be great. That means we have to put a lot of pressure on strong-side action, and our weak side has to do a great job of being supportive in helping guys.”
“Everybody’s got to be connected. Everybody’s got responsibilities and duties and they have to adhere to those.”
So, we’ll have Steve Nash at the point guard position as expected, and I see Blake as the second guard D’Antoni starts unless the Lakers begin ballgames extremely flat and absolutely need some scoring (likely from Nick Young).
With Nick Young coming off the bench, he’ll certainly add a spark to the second unit and will truly have a “green light” on the offensive end of the floor when he comes into the game. Additionally, it would prepare him for his role when Kobe does return, if indeed his role is going to be backing up the Bryant and providing scoring for a second unit that struggled to produce offense last season.
As for Wes Johnson, I feel as though he’s the forward the team is looking at to finally realize some of the potential the Minnesota Timberwolves saw in him when they drafted him fourth overall in 2010. As long as he performs well in the preseason, I see him starting at the three spot. If he doesn’t, I see Nick Young or Xavier Henry (if retained) starting instead.
As for the power forward spot, I’m sure Mike D’Antoni is leaning towards putting a stretch four out there, but may hold back in favor of interior defense and rebounding. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but on this team Jordan Hill is not a stretch four and is one of the better defenders on the team. That’s why I foresee him starting at this position. Certainly that could change if someone like Shawne Williams consistently impresses the coaching staff on both ends of the floor — essentially filling the role Earl Clark left.
However, given Chris Kaman’s range, I can certainly see him starting at the four slot as well. At the same time, Kaman could be the veteran presence necessary for the second unit to succeed. Add in his versatility and ability to pass (his assists numbers don’t necessarily reflect his ability and willingness to pass; although it was just one preseason game, he did log four assists on Saturday night), and I’d like to see him as the leader of the Bench Mob. This would also ensure that a seven-footer is always on the floor, even if D’Antoni chooses to go small with the rest of his guys.
Pau Gasol, as discussed, would obviously start the game at the center position.
Now, if spacing becomes an issue I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Run & Fun lineup with Shawne Williams possibly being the stretch four, or a variation of it with Chris Kaman at the four slot:
- PG: Steve Nash
- SG: Steve Blake
- SF: Nick Young
- PF: Chris Kaman/Shawne Williams
- C: Pau Gasol
I could see this working with speed and shooting in the back court and on the wings, with Kaman capable of both stretching the floor on offense and also defending in the paint or going with a designated stretch four starting instead. Starting Kaman, however, would give the Lakers a hybrid between a stretch four and a post player, but speed would be an issue.
As you can tell, I’m pretty set on Steve Blake starting at the shooting guard position and feel that it would actually be a solid, consistent option. If D’Antoni opts to not start Blake altogether, either the Traditional or Contingent lineups could work.
Ultimately, the decision will be based on performances throughout the rest of preseason as well as which players coach D’Antoni feels will be better suited to start or come off the bench.
As you can very well see, there are a number of options and none that appear as clear-cut as they seemed last season, especially with the Black Mamba being sidelined for the foreseeable future.
That’s why we want to hear from you, the fans. Who do you think should start at the beginning of the season? Who do you think would be best coming off the bench? Leave your comments below.