Five Lakers lineups we want to see next season

With training camp fewer than five weeks away, one of the most interesting Lakers subplots is the various lineup combinations at head coach Darvin Ham’s fingertips.

We’ve already covered the projected starting and bench rotation, as well as some of the closing lineup options in recent weeks. But there are other interesting lineup configurations that Los Angeles will use next season.

This all can also change at a moment’s notice, depending on what happens with Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ pursuit of roster upgrades. But until the roster changes, here are five lineups we would like to see this season, with an explanation of when and why they will be deployed.

1. The Closers

PG: Austin Reaves
SG: Troy Brown Jr.
SF: LeBron James
PF: Juan Toscano Anderson
VS: Anthony Davis

This is one of the projected closing lineups we previously covered but is worth exploring in further detail. It’s a group featuring multiple players with the ability to switch across at least three positions. (The frontcourt arguably could switch one through five — at least in doses.)

The swing factor will be the group’s collective shooting. Can Reaves, Brown and Toscano-Anderson make defenses pay enough for shading off them?

Between James and Reaves, the Lakers have ballhandling covered. Davis is going to be more of an offensive focal point next season, and Toscano-Anderson is an underrated passer (it’s probably his best offensive skill). Brown also displayed playmaking chops in Washington at the beginning of his career.

Westbrook is obviously an option, though his poor shooting and defensive effort are concerned during important possessions in close games. Kendrick Nunn, Lonnie Walker IV, Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson also are candidates to close games in place of Brown or Toscano-Anderson. (Reaves is penciled in as a starter and closer based on the chatter out of the organization.)

The Lakers also could opt to go bigger with Thomas Bryant or Damian Jones, but they’ve tended to close games with Davis at center, when opponents are also going smaller.

2. The best smaller lineup

PG: Kendrick Nunn
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: Troy Brown Jr.
PF: LeBron James
VS: Anthony Davis

When factoring in fit and two-way abilities, this might be the Lakers’ best lineup on paper next season. This has a chance to be another closing lineup — especially against smaller opponents.

Davis’ and James’ respective success at center and power forward is well-established. Brown and Reaves are the wings with the best balance of 3-point shooting and perimeter defense. They’ve also each displayed some ballhandling and playmaking chops (with Reaves projecting to play some point guard next season).

Nunn might be the best backcourt shooter on the roster, and though his size can be a limiting factor defensively, he isn’t a liability to the same level as Westbrook or Walker. He projects as a much cleaner fit with Davis and James as long as he plays within the flow of the offense.

Rebounding and rim protection are concerns if teams can force Davis away from the paint. Shooting is a concern with most lineups, but this one should be able to get by with Reaves, Brown and Nunn drilling spot-up 3s, swinging the ball and attacking closeouts.

3. LeBron with the bench

PG: Kendrick Nunn
SG: Lonnie Walker IV
SF: LeBron James
PF: Juan Toscano Anderson
VS: Damian Jones

This is the type of LeBron-centric bench lineup we’ve seen be effective during his Los Angeles tenure.

He has an athletic rim-runner who is a dynamic roller and finisher in Jones. He has a versatile frontcourt partner who can handle the most challenging forward matchups in Toscano-Anderson. And he has two microwave scorers who offer enough secondary ballhandling and playmaking juice in Walker and Nunn. Any defensive concerns are partially mitigated by this lineup only facing opposing second units.

The main concern here is shooting (a common theme with most lineups). LeBron-led bench lineups often have more shooting talent than the Lakers currently have. Perhaps sweet-shooting rookie Cole Swider could find his way into this lineup (though his defense, coupled with Walker’s, could be a disastrous combination). Regardless, the supporting cast will need to shoot better than last season.

4. LeBron at center

PG: Austin Reaves
SG: Troy Brown Jr.
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Juan Toscano Anderson
VS: LeBron James

Last season, because of injuries and the general ineffectiveness of their bigs and larger wings, the Lakers opted to use James at center. The results were mixed. They began encouraging before tailing off toward the end of the season. Overall, LeBron-at-center lineups were outscored by 1.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass.

One note was that lineups with Johnson at power forward (plus-1.8) performed better than lineups with Carmelo Anthony at power forward (plus-0.2), per Cleaning The Glass. James needs help defensively, of course, and this quartet is the Lakers’ four best non-James/Davis perimeter defenders (including Johnson).

The Lakers are better equipped to survive defensively with smaller lineups, but spacing and shooting, especially with Toscano-Anderson and Johnson, are potential concerns.

This is a wrinkle we should see next season, albeit in smaller doses likely.

5. Westbrook more shooting

PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: Troy Brown Jr.
PF: Anthony Davis
VS: Thomas Bryant

Assuming Westbrook is on next season’s roster — far from a certainty, obviously — this is the type of lineup in which he could thrive. It’s essentially the projected starters with Brown replacing James to allow Westbrook to be the primary ballhandler. This is a lineup the Lakers could use in the middle of the first and third quarters — when James typically rests.

Westbrook and Davis are surrounded by three shooters, creating the ideal environment for them to operate in the pick-and-roll and run various two-man actions. Reaves and Brown can handle the more difficult perimeter assignments, leaving Westbrook to roam and help. Davis’ defensive brilliance and Bryant’s size prop up the back-line defense.

The non-LeBron minutes have long been an issue for the Lakers, and this lineup has a chance to hold its own.

(Photo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James: Kiyoshi Mio/USA Today)

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