Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham could solve many of the Lakers’ problems with simple adjustments to the rotation, which were on full display in the Lakers’ double-overtime win over the Golden State Warriors. Ham should roll out the starters from last year’s playoffs, moving Jarred Vanderbilt back into the starting lineup and Taurean Prince into his more typical role as a versatile scorer off the bench.
The Taurean Prince Problem
The main issues of the current starting lineup around LeBron James and Anthony Davis of D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, and Taurean Prince showed right from the tip-off in the game against Golden State. The Lakers started the game with Reaves guarding Steph Curry, which unsurprisingly was unsuccessful. Steph took advantage of Reaves, leading to multiple assists from Curry and easy buckets for the Warriors as the Lakers were out of position, constantly playing help defense until Vanderbilt checked into the game for Prince with just under 6 minutes left in the first quarter.
Reaves shifted to guarding Klay Thompson, a much easier matchup for the 25-year-old guard. Ham needs to understand how to construct the roster better, especially the starting lineup, since, at this moment, it could be argued right now that on the Lakers bench, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt are both better options than Prince and should be getting more minutes than Prince. Vanderbilt has been averaging 20 minutes per game on the season, bumping up to 26 minutes per game over the past five games.
Taurean Prince is averaging 30 minutes a game for the Lakers, a 6-minute increase from his typical career regular-season minute mark of 24 minutes per game. Rui Hachimura only gets 22 minutes per night. However, if we look at their stats over the last ten games, Prince is averaging 9 points per game with three rebounds, two assists, and one steal per game on 43% from the floor and 36% from three. In this same stretch, Vanderbilt averaged 8.5 points per game, six rebounds, two assists, and two steals on 62% from the field and over 50% from three.
While playing around 5-10 minutes less than Prince per game, Rui has put up eerily similar numbers, averaging 9 points, three rebounds, one assist, and one steal per game while shooting 50% from the field and 42% from three.
Vando’s Vault @ Golden State 🔒
— † (@HoodiHachimura) January 28, 2024
In the 2020-2021 NBA season, Prince started four games for the Brooklyn Nets and six for the Cleveland Cavaliers after being a part of the infamous four-team deal that sent Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. In his two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Prince only started 12 games. So far, Taurean Prince has started all 44 games for the Lakers this season, twice as many games as he started in the previous three seasons combined. While Prince is not a tremendous athlete or defender, he is a very skilled offensive wing and does deserve a significant role in the rotation. Prince may be best served off the bench, playing alongside quicker guards like Max Christie or Cam Reddish, who could make up for Prince’s athletic limitations.
Lakers Coach Darvin Ham Dodging Questions
Darvin Ham on if he's considering going back to Jarred Vanderbilt in the Lakers' starting lineup: "Well, right now, I’ll consider getting me something to eat, a nice glass of wine and consider sleeping very soon here. Getting a good night’s sleep. No lineup questions, please."
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) January 28, 2024
In the double overtime win over the Golden State Warriors, Prince struggled throughout the game, finishing with a plus-minus of negative 22. He scored zero points on the night with only three rebounds, an assist, and a steal. On the other hand, Vanderbilt played 41 minutes, scoring 14 points along with nine rebounds, five assists, and a game-high four steals on the night with a plus 30. However, Darvin Ham seems unlikely to change the current starting lineup despite the success of last year’s playoffs starters. This may be due to the fact Vanderbilt recently returned from injury, and the Lakers’ medical staff may be trying to get him acclimated back slowly. However, if this was the case for the reduced role so far on the season, Vanderbilt might be unleashed soon as he just played over 40 minutes on January 27th in the double overtime win against the Warriors.
Darvin Ham may have been annoyed by the question as two days prior, on January 25th, Ham stated, “Taurean has been one of our most durable guys and one of our better three-point shooters,” when asked about starting Prince over last year’s playoff starting lineup of LeBron, AD, Vanderbilt, Reaves, and D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers head coach said that with LeBron on the court and Anthony Davis playmaking from the post, the team benefited from “as much spacing and shooting to put around them(LeBron and AD), the better.” For the Lakers to compete at the highest level against the top contenders in the NBA, head coach Darvin Ham must sacrifice some perimeter shooting in order to have any semblance of perimeter defense.