4 Lakers That Will See an Increased Role in Bradley’s Absence


Lakers starting guard Avery Bradley has decided he will not be joining the Lakers in Orlando. In his 10th NBA season, Bradley emerged as an important contributor for L.A. this season. The Lakers’ rotation will now be much different than it looked throughout most of the season, but the expectations for this team remain the same. Bradley started 44 of the 49 games he played in, with the five non-starts coming as he returned from injury.

It’s important to note; Bradley’s decision is seemingly about family and safety. I, like most, fully support him (and any other players) who make the decision to not play the season out. Everyone has to do what is best for themselves and their loved ones.

With that being said, there’s still going to be a group of Lakers heading to Orlando with championship aspirations. That group will include the recently signed JR Smith, who is filling the roster spot left open from Bradley’s decision. Frank Vogel and his staff now have to figure out how to adjust rotations and strategies. Not only did they lose a starter, they also lost their defensive tone setter.

Avery Bradley’s stats aren’t flashy. You can’t truly appreciate him just by checking box scores. The film is the only way to understand the impact he has on the team.

So, with no Bradley, what will L.A. do?

1. KCP Joins the Starting Crew

Bradley’s defensive tenacity has been a tone setter for L.A. all season. While the Lakers do have formidable defenders such as Alex Caruso that can be inserted into the starting unit, that’s unlikely given what we’ve seen from Vogel this season. More likely, coach Vogel and his staff will want to have optimal floor spacing for LeBron running the pick & roll, with the best defense possible as a plus.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started 20 games this season, notably starting all five that Bradley came off the bench for after returning from injury. In his 20 starts, KCP averaged 11.1 PPG on more efficient shooting than when he came off the bench.

  • In starts: 11.1 PPG, 51.3% FG%, 43.4% 3PT%.
  • Off bench: 8.8 PPG, 45.1% FG%, 37.2% 3PT%.

Clearly, Caldwell-Pope is comfortable as a starter. More importantly, the rest of the starters are comfortable with him.

The Lakers usual starting 5 (that includes Bradley) lead the team in minutes played this year, at 389. The second most minutes played for a 5 man lineup was substituting KCP in for Bradley, a lineup that played 253 minutes together. No other 5-man group played more than 145 minutes together for the Lakers.

Inserting Caruso into the starting 5 in place of Bradley creates a lineup that has played a grand total of 10 minutes together this season. Only 8 games will be played before the playoffs begin, the Lakers can’t afford to work through new lineups when they arrive in Orlando.

KCP and Danny Green will be able to match-up well against opposing scorers to start the game. Size isn’t lost, shooting is improved, but defense takes a hit. Most importantly, L.A. will have their two most lethal shooters on the floor to start games.

2. Alex Caruso

Fan favorite Alex Caruso is the Lakers next man up in terms of impact perimeter defenders. Caruso was already expected to have a reasonably sized role in the playoffs, but no Bradley means that role will be even bigger. Caruso is fully aware of what will be expected, though, and had this to say on a recent Zoom call with reporters:

“I don’t know if I’ll be the sole provider of everything that Avery did, that’s a lot to ask for because of how good he is at what he does, but I’m definitely going to be ready to fill part of that gap and that need.”

Caruso should expect to be tasked with harassing opposing guards for bursts of game time, something Bradley did on a regular basis. When done effectively and legally, that kind of pesky defense leads to turnovers either directly, or as a result of opponents getting lazy for a split second.

With athletes like LeBron James and Anthony Davis roaming on defense, these passes tend to lead to easy transition buckets. It’s important to note that Caruso isn’t the same defender as Bradley. He doesn’t play in the opponents space usually, at least not like Bradley. Caruso is more of a stay in-front of his man defender, maintaining positioning for a good shot contest. It’s important to not ask him to do what he can’t do effectively.

It’s very possible Vogel throws some unique lineups at opponents to steal a possession or two potentially. If lacking desired ball pressure, we could see the staff get pretty creative. For example, maybe we see a lineup that maximizes length and wingspan. Ball pressure helps disrupt offensive flow, and being in passing lanes could be a clever substitute for that occasionally.

This is one way they can keep Caruso in his comfort zone, while still asking him to do more.

3-4. Limited, but Important Roles for Waiters and JR

On a nightly basis, don’t expect these two in the rotation. Instead, you’ll see them used occasionally when specific abilities are needed. Or, in certain playoff match ups either one of them could crack into the rotation.

Waiters’ ability to get himself or his teammates shots is useful, especially given the Lakers lack of creators. Additionally, he has shown in the past an ability to be a plus defender when needed. Something to bank on? No. A possible development in a random game in Orlando? Yes.

JR is also useful for the team, just in limited spurts. Knockdown shooting is always needed, and confidence like Smith’s is rare. He has taken the big shot before, and he has made the big shot before. Coach Vogel can insert him into a game cold and expect him to make a big shot or two. Hopefully it won’t be needed, but that ability is an asset.

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About Garrett Brooks

I am a Sport Management student, with experience in Basketball Training, Analytics, and events. I spend a lot of time in the Basketball world, and I hope to share some of my insights with others.

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