The main parts of the Los Angeles Lakers roster appears to be set with only a few questions remaining, a few of them being how many roster spots will they carry, 14 or the maximum 15, and which players on non-guaranteed deals will earn those final spots.
Taking a closer look at the current pieces on the Lakers roster it quickly becomes apparent that a very important position is underrepresented which brings forth another question:
Who plays the 3 (Small Forward) position?
What about Kobe Bryant?
There has been talk of moving Kobe Bryant to the 3 position this coming season in order to save his legs by not having to chase around the quicker 2 guards in the league, but not sure being matched up with the Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker of the NBA really provides any great relief.
Moving Bryant to the 3 would open up two back court positions which would enable the Lakers to play both 2nd year man Jordan Clarkson and high draft pick D’Angelo Russell but this creates another problem for the Lakers which is how can you get the best of 3 players on the court at the same time that all play their best with the ball in their hands? The answer is likely that you limit the playing time of the trio playing together on the floor and bring one of them off the bench and that one will definitely not be Kobe Bryant.
Bryant at the 3 is plausible but without an ideal duo in the back court with the skill set to compliment him in the starting line-up he might be better served to remain in his normal shooting guard position. Add to the fact that the Lakers lack depth at the point guard position they might want Russell and Clarkson to split time at that position.
What about Nick Young?
If the decision is made to keep Bryant at his normal position of shooting guard Nick Young is another option to start at the 3.
Over his career Young has primarily played the 2 position but during most of his time with the Lakers, especially last season where he played the at small forward 70 percent of the time. In the short stint that Young played the small forward spot alongside Bryant it worked well, at least offensively, which will be something for the coaching staff to think about when deciding on the starting unit.
Young would provide another dynamic scorer that provides spacing on the floor for Bryant and whatever guard they pair him with, be it Russell or Clarkson. Spacing which will be crucial with Roy Hibbert in the starting line-up clogging up the paint making drives to the basket difficult.
The Young, Bryant and either Clarkson or Russell does not make a formidable defensive perimeter unit however, which is the problem that arises by placing Swaggy P in the starting unit. While Hibbert is an elite rim protector that will make it easier for the perimeter defenders it is probably too much to ask for him to clean up the mess that would be left with the trio. In addition, with Bryon Scott’s defense first philosophy, it is unlikely that Young will get the nod in the starting unit.
What about Julius Randle?
When the talk of the Lakers getting a big name power forward in free agency, such as LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love, many had speculated that Julius Randle could be moved over to the 3. That talk has since gone away with the Lakers whiffing in free agency and now it appears that Brandon Bass and Randle will compete for the starting power forward position.
If it is an open competition at the 4 between Bass and Randle, the veteran is likely to beat him out for the starting position what with old school Byron Scott being the decision maker who will inevitably fall in love with Bass’ throwback, blue collar type game.
What will likely keep Randle from earning a starting position, whether its at the 4 or 3 position, is that he showed in summer league play that his game still needs a ton of work. Randle’s outside shot still looks flawed and was off the mark in summer league. Randle did show that the leg injury did not slow his incredibly quick first step or take anything away from his great ball handling ability for a guy his size; however, his finishing ability is still a work in progress. Randle is still left hand dominate and has trouble finishing at the rim with either contact or in traffic.
The lack of a consistent outside shot and inability to finish with contact takes the 3 position completely out of the question for Randle and will make it difficult for him to beat out Bass at the 4.
What about Anthony Brown?
Anthony Brown didn’t wow anybody in summer league play for the Lakers. Brown averaged a meager 5 points a game and shot a horrid 33 percent from the field in 5 games; however, he did show slight improvement in the last 2 games, averaging 8 points and shooting 45 percent from the field; more importantly, Brown 33 percent from 3 and showed flashes of great one-on-one perimeter defense.
Those flashes, albeit short, showed the potential of what Brown could be which is the 3 and D guy that the Lakers’ roster desperately needs.
In terms of size and physical tools Brown fits the mold of a small forward that can defend the position. Brown’s measurements at the NBA Draft Combine were comparable to some of the more highly touted small forwards in this years draft, namely Rondae Hollis Jefferson and Stanley Johnson.
It does seem like a long shot with Brown being a rookie but it shouldn’t considering that unlike some of the other first or even second year players on the Lakers roster, he actually comes in with a good deal of experience having played 5 seasons at Stanford. Brown will be 23 years old when the 2015-2016 season starts which older than all of the other 2015 Lakers’ draftees and 2nd year man Jabari Brown.
Brown is probably the best option at the starting small forward position based on the other options on the Lakers roster but it will require that he show more of what he was able to do in the last 2 summer league games with steady improvement in the preseason.
What about a player not currently on the roster?
The Lakers will keep their eyes open for players becoming available on the waiver wire or from teams that will be looking to offer up players in trade.
The current crop of available small forwards on the free agent market is pretty unappealing. Dorell Wright is possibly the best of what is out there and does provide floor spacing with his 36.5 career 3 point percentage. Wright last played for Portland where he averaged 4.6 points and shot 38 percent from 3 in 12.3 minutes per game last season for the Blazers.
A small forward that could be waived is veteran Danny Granger who is currently on Detroit’s roster. Granger played sparingly for the Miami Heat last season; in 30 games he averaged 6.3 points in 20 minutes. The 32 year old Granger did shoot a respectable 35.7 percent from behind the arc which is not too far of a drop off from his career average of 38 percent.
Lakers just don’t have great options to start at the 3 at the moment. Do they start an inexperienced rookie, an aging superstar that is coming off 3 major injuries or pick up a warm body from the free agent pool that has already been picked clean? It is a touch choice and not in a good way.
We are still a few months away from the start of the season so something unforeseen that provides a better option can come up and if it does expect the Lakers to pounce.