The L.A. skipper is aware of the issue as he admitted that he needs to work on his rotations after the team’s loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.
“My rotation, we gotta really dig into that and really figure it out,” said Ham. “… Buckling down on our rotation, I’ll start there. That’s the main thing that’s on my mind.”
When it comes to putting together a closing lineup, Ham has options. The unit that closes games for L.A. may need to be fluid at times depending on the matchup and overall flow of each game, but in most cases, Ham should be tempted by the idea of finishing games with a five-man lineup featuring LeBron James, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Christian Wood and Anthony Davis.
1. LeBron James
An obvious choice, James needs to be on the floor in crunch time.
In his case, the question isn’t about whether he will be on the floor in the final minutes — it’s about how his fourth-quarter minutes should be handled overall.
If the plan is for the future Hall of Famer to play under 30 minutes per game this season, the Lakers need to pick their spots in using him. How can they maximize his value? Should he start the fourth quarter in the game or on the bench? At what point in the fourth quarter can he enter the game and stay on the floor until the final buzzer?
Those are questions that need to be answered. James has been phenomenal in the fourth quarter this season — he’s averaging 9.3 points per game in fourth quarters alone while shooting 64.7 percent from the field — but he’s currently averaging 34.3 minutes per game overall, a trend that likely won’t continue.
2. Austin Reaves
Despite a rough showing against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Reaves has earned the right to close games for the Lakers.
The moment rarely (if ever) gets too big for the 25-year-old, who was rock solid during last season’s playoffs. Reaves averaged 16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per contest for the Lakers in 16 playoff games during their run that ended in the Western Conference Finals.
Moreover, Reaves has seemingly established chemistry and trust with his teammates — particularly James — to a point where communication will likely become second nature soon (if it hasn’t already).
“There was no real conversation off the court or anything,” Reaves responded when asked when he knew he had the trust of James. “I always knew that we from day one, we connected on that IQ level just thinking the game differently than other people do.
Reaves also tends to simply make the right play when he has the ball in his hands, a key factor to consider given the fact that he and James would likely be the primary ball-handlers in this closing lineup.
3. Rui Hachimura
Hachimura got the short end of the stick in Sunday’s loss to the Kings.
Despite having an extremely strong stretch during a crucial stage of the game, the 25-year-old wasn’t on the floor during the closing minutes of the fourth quarter or at any point in overtime.
Rui Hachimura checks in w/ 3:18 left in the 3rd Quarter down 75-82
he then gets subbed w/ 7:27 left in the 4th Quarter TIED 99-99
in that stretch he recorded 10 PTS 3/4 FG AND 2/3 3PT in SEVEN MINUTES
— † (@HoodiHachimura) October 30, 2023
Ham’s usage of Hachimura was a bit puzzling in the loss, especially since the forward has shown that he’s capable of getting the job done in clutch moments.
Take last season’s playoffs, for example, when he put together one of the most efficient stretches of his career to help the Lakers make their deep run. He averaged 12.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 55.7 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from deep.
It’s also worth noting that if the Lakers want Hachimura to grow, they need to give him a chance to spread his wings. Remember, he signed a three-year deal with the organization this past offseason.
4. Christian Wood
Wood seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder this season.
Questions about the 28-year-old’s attitude and defensive capabilities have followed him in recent years, but he may be on his way to putting those concerns to rest.
In L.A.’s recent matchup against Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns, Wood even had some moments where he made life tough on the future Hall of Famer.
Of course, many would argue that Wood’s scoring abilities are still more valuable than any other part of his game, and that may be true.
Although he’s averaging just 8.3 points per game so far this season, he’s doing so in efficient fashion (57.1 percent shooting from the field and 40.0 percent shooting from deep). Moreover, his track record as a scorer requires no explaining, as he has averaged 18.0 points per game across 179 appearances since the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
Wood is another player who drew a questionable hand against the Kings regarding his playing time down the stretch, a choice that Ham should probably be second-guessing.
5. Anthony Davis
There’s no need to stress over the final spot, as Davis is the obvious choice.
The Lakers simply need to get some consistency from Davis this season, especially when games slow down and it’s a matter of two teams letting their best players go to work.
The big man has been a mixed bag in crunch time this season. He wasn’t particularly impressive down the stretch against the Denver Nuggets in the season opener or in the game against the Kings on Sunday, but he did have a 13-point fourth quarter against the Suns when the Lakers got their first win of the season.
L.A. could use more of that.
It’s also worth noting that if Davis can keep knocking down 3-pointers this season (he’s 3-for-6 so far), every player in this particular lineup would require respect from opposing defenses from beyond the arc. That’s an added bonus that Ham needs to keep in mind.