Finding the Perfect Rotation for Los Angeles Lakers
The 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers have held their heads above water with a decent 4-6 record, but they’re still searching for the perfect rotation to climb back to the .500 mark.
As expected, the Lakers have been dreadful defensively. They’re allowing 105.8 points per game, which ranks them 28th in the NBA. Only the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers have been worse in that regard.
Through 10 games, Lakers opponents are shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range. Needless to say, challengers aren’t having a difficult time scoring on this defense.
Although the defense has been abysmal, the Lakers are rebounding the ball well—they rank third with 47 rebounds per game—and are in the middle of the pack scoring-wise by posting 99.3 points per game. The downside is that they’re shooting an ugly 41.8 percent from the field.
So what five-man rotation is going to be the Lakers' best bet moving forward?
Finding defense within this group isn’t exactly feasible, but a handful of players have been efficient on the offensive end of the floor.
This article is not aiming to re-construct the Lakers starting five. Instead, I'm putting together the most productive and efficient five-man rotation the Lakers have available right now.
Mike D’Antoni’s Lakers need to embrace efficient offense wherever they can find it.
Note: All statistics in this article are accurate as of November 14 (through 10 games played).
5. Center: Chris Kaman
Chris Kaman entered the 2013-14 season with a stomach virus. He hasn’t been playing at 100 percent as a result, but the big man has been impressive in limited time regardless.
The former All-Star has started only three games so far. He’s averaging 18.6 minutes per contest but sports a player efficiency rating of 15.1. That’s good for second on the team behind Jordan Hill (if you disqualify Ryan Kelly’s skewed PER of 34.7 in just seven total minutes).
Kaman is grabbing six rebounds per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line. His efficient offense isn’t the only reason why he’s the best option down low for Los Angeles, however.
According to 82games.com, Kaman is posting a production rating of 16.9 while keeping the production of opponents to 16.1 for a net of plus-0.9. He hasn’t been dominating opponents, but when compared with teammate Pau Gasol—who is surrendering a production rating of 19.5 for a net of minus-6.6—Kaman’s numbers are far superior.
Gasol hasn’t been able to stifle anyone on the defensive end, and he’s shooting a paltry 39.4 percent from the field. He's finally back to averaging double-digit rebounds, but shooting below 40 percent is unacceptable for most NBA guards, let alone a 7-footer spending most of his time in and around the painted area.
At this juncture, Kaman is the best option if he can shoulder a bigger workload. He's been a far more efficient shooter and is collecting a fair amount of rebounds in his own right.
4. Power Forward: Jordan Hill
If anyone on the Lakers roster deserves more minutes, that player is Jordan Hill.
The big man out of the University of Arizona has been dominant in limited minutes. Despite notching just 18.5 minutes per game, he is averaging 8.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and one block per game.
Those numbers are not a fluke. When given more minutes in specific games this season, Hill has shined. He notched 21 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans and followed that performance by posting 18 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes against the Denver Nuggets.
His player efficiency rating of 25.8 not only ranks him highest among qualified Lakers but also positions him 11th in the NBA.
Hill has been great for the Lakers so far, but the vast majority of his minutes have come at the center position, and he’s never played beside Chris Kaman, according to 82games.com.
The 26-year-old may fit best as a small-ball center, but Wesley Johnson acts as a defensive sieve in such lineups (or any lineup, frankly).
Playing Hill and Kaman simultaneously would be an experimental gamble, but Hill has the athleticism to make it work.
3. Small Forward: Xavier Henry
Even though Xavier Henry has been the definition of inconsistency during the 2013-14 season, he’s done enough to warrant a spot in the rotation.
The 22-year-old had a tremendous game in the season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting while adding six rebounds, two assists, one steal and this thunderous fast-break dunk.
Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he scored 15 points—including the embedded poster slam on Jeff Withey—to go with three steals.
The youngster’s ability to change the momentum of a game with explosive dunks has been invaluable to the Lakers. However, scoring in double digits has been a rarity for him.
In the six games that he failed to reach double-digit scoring, he scored just 25 points total for an average of 4.2 points per game. The Lakers lost five of those six games.
By contrast, the Lakers have a 3-1 record when Henry scores in double digits. Getting him going offensively has been a major key to the team’s success thus far.
Again, the former Kansas Jayhawk has been a hit-or-miss performer through 10 games of the 2013-14 season. Even so, he’s shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc.
The Lakers are a scary team when Henry gets it going offensively. He just needs to make that happen more frequently.
2. Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks
Jodie Meeks is averaging 12 points per contest through 10 games, which ranks him second on the team. He’s shooting 50.6 percent from the field and a scorching-hot 46.7 percent from three-point land.
The 26-year-old shooting guard has looked like a completely different player compared to last season. During the 2012-13 campaign (his first with the Lakers), he shot 38.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three. Those were his worst shooting numbers since his rookie year with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009-10.
He's shooting the ball with confidence, and although his defense has been mediocre at best, his efficient scoring has been a welcome sign in the absence of Kobe Bryant.
Obviously, Bryant is a far superior player, but Meeks’ shooting percentages this year are better than any the Black Mamba has posted in his 17 seasons.
Meeks likely won’t sustain the hot shooting, but there’s every reason to ride his hot hand right now.
1. Point Guard: Steve Blake
Although Steve Nash is the obvious choice for the Lakers' perfect rotation when healthy, the “when healthy” part is holding back the former two-time MVP.
Nash has been diagnosed with nerve root irritation, which has caused chronic pain in his hamstring and back. Steve Blake, meanwhile, has started all 10 of the Lakers' regular-season games.
The highlight of Blake’s 2013-14 season so far came against the Houston Rockets when he drained the game-winning three over Dwight Howard's outstretched arm with 1.3 seconds remaining. His heroics earned him praise from Kobe Bryant via Twitter.
Blake has been on fire from downtown this season, shooting 49 percent from long range. He’s shooting a disappointing 39.1 percent inside the arc, but his touch from deep has made up for it.
He’s been in the starting lineup from Day 1 in place of the injured Bryant and has embraced the challenge.
In addition to his 49 percent shooting from three-point range, Blake is leading the Lakers in assists with 6.1 per contest. He’s also turning the ball over just 1.6 times per game, which has been huge for a team with no transition defense to speak of.
Jordan Farmar has played with a lot of (irrational) confidence this season, which may earn him this spot in the eyes of some fans. However, Farmar is shooting just 37.2 percent from the field and a woeful 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Blake is the clear choice at point guard until Nash returns at full strength (if he ever does).