How does Patrick Beverley affect the Lakers’ rotation?
With the caveats that this isn’t the final version of the roster and there are still likely changes to come ahead of training camp, here is Version 2.0 of the Lakers’ projected depth chart, rotation and positional battles. (Read Version 1.0 here.)
(Cole Swider and Scotty Pippen Jr. aren’t included, as it’s unlikely that either player has a significant role on next season’s roster barring injuries.)
Lakers depth chart
Troy Brown Jr.
Lonnie Walker IV
The Lakers’ projected starting lineup remains unchanged post-Beverley trade.
If Russell Westbrook remains in Los Angeles, there is expected to be an open competition for the second backcourt spot, primarily between Austin Reaves and Beverley. Beverley has been a nearly full-time starter since his second season in the league, but he’s also never played on a team that already has two players who act as starting point guards (LeBron James and Westbrook).
There’s a strong argument that Beverley is best deployed by staggering his minutes off the bench so he mostly plays with one of James or Westbrook. There’s a counter-argument that Beverley’s 3-point shooting and defense are indispensable regardless of the lineup configuration.
Unless the Lakers are willing to regularly put Beverley on wings, though, they likely need Reaves’ size and length against bigger shooting guards and small forwards. Nonetheless, it’s close. There is an argument either way, and the coming weeks will determine which player ultimately gains the edge. Reaves retains it here for now.
Reaves and Thomas Bryant have been two of the standout performers in player workouts, league sources told The Athletic. Bryant is nearly 19 months removed from knee surgery after partially tearing his left ACL and is beginning to regain his mobility. Reaves, who bulked up this offseason to around 209 pounds, has been working diligently on his 3-point shot, strength and endurance for the grind of an 82-game season, as well as his physicality to handle bigger wings on the perimeter.
With less depth in the frontcourt following the Beverley trade — Stanley Johnson was a forward and Talen Horton-Tucker could slide up to small forward — the Lakers are likely to play bigger more often to compensate for their lack of size on the perimeter. Bryant’s minutes increase from 16 to 20, while Reaves’ minutes dip slightly from 28 to 25 due to Beverley’s presence.
Troy Brown Jr.
Lonnie Walker IV
Beverley is basically the sixth starter in this model, given that he’s fourth in minutes per game. He’s averaged 25.8 minutes per game over the past four seasons – though he logged just 22.5 minutes per game during the 2020-21 season, his final one with the Clippers. When factoring in his age and injury history, the Lakers need to be careful with his regular-season on-court workload.
As is often the case with Alex Caruso, Beverley’s energy expenditure can fatigue him earlier than the average player. The Lakers can use him as a change-of-pace disruptor who comes off the bench a few minutes into the game for Westbrook, creating opportunities later in the first quarter and at other times to deploy Westbrook-Anthony Davis-shooters lineups.
Otherwise, everyone else takes a slight hit compared to Version 1.0. In particular, the perimeter trio of Kendrick Nunn, Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. Nunn is slightly less valuable with Beverley around, as Beverley can provide similar ballhandling and playmaking with better shooting, rebounding and defense. (That would change, of course, if Westbrook is traded and Beverley moves into the starting lineup at point guard.)
The Lakers stretch to an 11-man rotation in Version 2.0, though there’s a possibility that one of Brown or Walker falls out entirely. Brown fills a greater need as a bigger wing who’s a better shooter and defender, but contracts often dictate playing time. Walker has the largest salary of any signing the offseason, and he’s expected to fill a Malik Monk-esque role.
That leaves Wenyen Gabriel and Max Christie as the players on the outside of the rotation. Gabriel moves up to being the 12th man, temporarily. Christie is a long shot for rotation minutes. Swider and Pippen will also be hard-pressed to earn legitimate minutes, but Swider’s shooting, along with the lack of frontcourt depth, could lead to him having a role at some point.
Here are the updated projected rotation battles that will play out in training camp and the preseason.
Starting shooting guard
Contenders: Austin Reaves vs. Patrick Beverley
As previously reported, the Lakers are looking to start whichever backcourt player can make 3s and defend at the point of attack at the highest level. On paper, that is Beverley. He is the more established and battle-tested option. He has been entrenched as a starter for nearly a decade.
However, there are drawbacks to starting such a small backcourt, even if Beverley and Westbrook are two of the best rebounding guards and both capable of depending up a position or two. The rotation also likely flows better by staggering the Lakers’ primary ballhandlers.
There is enough overlap between Reaves and Beverley that the Lakers don’t lose much regardless of their choice. The battle will likely come down to Reaves’ shooting. If he recaptures his stroke from college and the first half of his rookie season, it makes more sense to start him. If not, Beverley should have the advantage.
Fifth and sixth perimeter players
Contenders: Kendrick Nunn vs. Troy Brown Jr. vs. Lonnie Walker IV
James, Reaves, Westbrook and Beverley are locks for minutes at the three perimeter positions (point guard, shooting guard and small forward). The other two spots are up for grabs.
Nunn is the best player on paper, and could, in a sense, end up as the Lakers’ best “free-agency” addition this season. At the same time, he’s technically the third point guard behind Westbrook and Beverley, which somewhat limits his upside in the rotation.
Brown and Walker have different strengths. Brown is defensive-minded and fits better around the Lakers’ stars as a spot-up threat and low-usage option. Walker reprises the Monk role of instant offense and swings in efficiency. He’s a defensive liability on a team that is desperate for wing defense.
In terms of fit and team needs, Walker should be the odd man out. When considering contracts, it’s Brown. The Lakers could also opt for more of an 11-man rotation, which is the projection here.
Contenders: Russell Westbrook vs. Juan Toscano-Anderson vs. Kendrick Nunn vs. Troy Brown Jr.
James and Davis are closing fixtures. Reaves and Beverley are penciled in to fill in the perimeter with their 3-and-D skill sets.
So, who’s the fifth closer?
Westbrook is the obvious favorite, but as the Lakers saw last season, his shooting limitations, inconsistent defensive effort and questionable decision-making sometimes hurt the team down the stretch of close games. That led to former head coach Frank Vogel benching Westbrook multiple times in the second half of the season. Ham has the green light to bench Westbrook when appropriate.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will have more power to bench Russell Westbrook down the stretch of games, sources tell @jovanbuha.
Former head coach Frank Vogel did so a few times last season.
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) August 3, 2022
Juan Toscano-Anderson provides the Lakers with a facsimile of the crunch-time blueprint in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, when they closed games with Davis at center and Kyle Kuzma or Markieff Morris — versatile forwards with decent shooting — at power forward. Aside from Westbrook, Toscano-Anderson has the best chance to close given his skill set and the team’s frontcourt needs.
Nunn’s offensive prowess makes him a contender to close, but he’ll have to prove he can hold his own on the defensive end in small lineups. Brown Jr. is an option if the Lakers want another 3-and-D wing option around their two superstars. More likely than not, the Lakers will rotate some combination of these players. There will also be matchups such as the Nuggets and 76ers that call for Bryant or Damian Jones to close in two-big lineups.
(Photo of Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook: Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)