How the Lakers can overcome their shorthanded backcourt

The Los Angeles Lakers will have to adjust with the absences of both Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.

The Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the most consistently great teams in the NBA this season. A major reason is their health and depth, as 13 players on the roster have made at least 38 appearances this year, led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has played all 63 games.

But like the majority of the league, they will enter the restart shorthanded. The Lakers will be missing two key pieces of their core: starting shooting guard Avery Bradley (family reasons) and backup point guard Rajon Rondo (thumb injury).

Fortunately, Rondo is expected to fully recover in 6-8 weeks. Assuming he sits out the full eight weeks, the backup point guard should be healthy by around Labor Day during the conference semifinals.

Regardless, the Lakers have a deep enough team to overcome these losses. They already signed free agent guard J.R. Smith in response to Bradley’s absence. Smith will provide a surplus of shooting, which this team lacks. The Lakers rank 17th in the league in 3-point percentage at 35.5 percent on 31.4 attempts per game. Smith shoots 37.3 percent from long range for his career on 5.3 attempts per game.

Even with Rondo’s sudden injury, expect Smith to still come off the bench. His play style is more suited for the second unit, which has struggled all season (Kyle Kuzma is the team’s leading scorer off the bench with 12.5 points per game). The Lakers have better starting options such as Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso.

Caldwell-Pope makes the most sense to fill in as the starting shooting guard for the time being. He has started in 20 games this season, is second on the team in 3-point shooting at 39.4 percent on 3.5 attempts a night and can simply focus on being a 3-and-D guy.

This could potentially open up more playing time for Caruso as well. The 6-foot-5 guard has been a fan favorite due to his high-flying dunks, ability to play either backcourt position and his positive rapport with the rest of the team.

Although he’s only averaging 17.8 minutes per game this season, Caruso always makes a positive impact on the court. He’s shooting 42.3 percent from the field, including 47.1 percent from inside the arc and 35.5 percent from distance, and he holds a defensive box plus/minus of 2.4.

Even if the Lakers decide on a different direction from Caruso, their next option is Quinn Cook. Cook brings championship experience from his past two years on the Golden State Warriors, as well as his college days at Duke. In the 2017-18 season, the 6-foot-1 point guard averaged a career-high 9.5 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting, including 51.4 percent from within the arc and 44.2 percent from long range.

Either way, the Lakers have enough depth at both guard slots, and LeBron James won’t be forced to play 42 minutes per game in the postseason like he has done throughout his career. For now, their best option is to slide Caldwell-Pope into the starting lineup and feature a second unit combination led by Caruso, Cook and/or Smith. They have eight games to experiment with this.

The Lakers are set to restart their season on July 30 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Next: Predicting the Lakers’ final 8 games of the season

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