The Los Angeles Lakers made it a priority to keep the core together after an underdog run to the Western Conference Finals last season. That included re-signing D'Angelo Russell to a two-year, $36 million contract.
It will not be entirely the same roster, however. The point guard depth chart will look different. The Lakers lost Dennis Schroder to the Toronto Raptors before subsequently signing Gabe Vincent, who spent last season as the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference champs in Miami.
Vincent put together an impressive postseason for the runner-up Heat, averaging 12.7 points and 3.5 assists on .402/.378/.882 splits across 22 playoff games. He doesn't fill up the stat sheet, but he's an efficient and versatile shooter who provides reliable supplementary playmaking next to an on-ball star like Jimmy Butler.
There's every reason to believe Vincent can find similar success as LeBron James' running mate with the Lakers. And, after D'Lo struggled rather extensively during the Lakers' playoff push (13.3 points and 4.6 assists on .426/.310/.769 splits), there was an expectation — or, dare I say, a hope — in certain corners of the LA fandom that Vincent might relegate Russell to the second unit.
That will not be the case.
Darvin Ham pegs D'Angelo Russell as Los Angeles Lakers' starting point guard
This is not entirely surprising. Just based on the annual contract value for each player — Russell at $17.3 million, Vincent at $10.5 million — it's clear the former's value is much higher on the open market. While Russell struggled in the postseason, he's a No. 2 pick who oozes with obvious talent. There are valid questions about his ability to put that natural talent to good use, but his name simply possesses a level of cachet that Vincent's does not.
Russell will put up a healthy dose of points. He faired quite well during his regular season stint with the Lakers after the trade deadline. He averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists on .484/.414/.735 splits in 17 games. There's no way around the impressive nature of those numbers and, in theory, he is best suited to an offense built around another high-level creator such as LeBron. The Lakers are well positioned to maximize Russell's strengths as a scorer while mitigating his offensive shortcomings.
Vincent is the far better defender and there's a good chance the Lakers find themselves closing games with Vincent, even when Russell starts. There was a similar dynamic with Schroder last season, and the German guard even supplanted Russell in the starting five in the Lakers' final postseason game. So, even if Russell starts Day 1, that means very little as far as Los Angeles' plans for situations of high importance.
It is not immediately clear how the rest of Los Angeles' rotation will shape up — Anthony Davis has expressed a desire to play less five and the Lakers are well-stocked in the frontcourt — but one should expect Davis, James, Russell, Austin Reaves, and Rui Hachimura to occupy the opening day lineup. From there, Darvin Ham may have to tinker around to find better pairings as the season progresses.