With the last stretch of the season to go, the Los Angeles Lakers need a secondary playmaker to emerge from their roster that can be relied on to carry the load when LeBron James is off the floor.
To be able to analyse who can fill the role it’s important to understand how impressive LeBron James is at creating plays and buckets for the team.
James is within the top 15 players in the NBA when it comes to usage rate, with 30.8%. Hence why he has such a strong presence on the court. With this high usage, he also contributes to a league leading (when looking at players who have played over 5 games) 54.4% of the Lakers’ assists.
The 35-year-old is sitting at the top of the assist leaderboard by a distance, with a sensational 10.7 assists per game. Just to put that into context, All-Star Trae Young is second with 9.3 per game. Not only is James producing a huge number of assists, but he’s doing this whilst maintaining a career-high assist to turnover ratio of 2.65.
Along with these stats and eye test, it’s clear to see that LeBron James is an elite playmaker.
Rajon Rondo, who was tipped to be the secondary playmaker, isn’t at the level he used to be. He can still create assists (averaging 5 per game), however he’s not efficient as he has been in the past and his offensive game has progressively gotten worse.
While on the floor, the Lakers’ offensive rating drops by 8.2, which is a huge amount. Compare this to Alex Caruso, who has a sensational +7.5 when on the court. The purple and gold can’t afford to play Rondo on excessive minutes because the impact is detrimental to the team hence why the playmaking role needs to be assigned to someone like Alex Caruso or even newly acquired guard Dion Waiters.
Alex Caruso is a fan favourite in the City of Angels. Caruso has a great all-round game and is especially impactful when on defense. Caruso has an impressive +1.6 in Goldstein’s Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus score. So when on the court, he isn’t a liability on that end unlike Rondo.
Caruso has already showcased some of his playmaking abilities and is currently averaging 1.8 assists per game whilst producing an efficient 2.3 assists per turnover. His passing isn’t near the level of LeBron James, but it’s at a decent level that the team can take advantage of.
Caruso has proven that he can be relied on when carrying some of the playmaking duties whilst playing more minutes. During last year he was averaging 3.1 assists per game, whilst playing only 3 more minutes per game than he is this season. Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel should increase Caruso’s minutes and let him flourish into the secondary playmaker role.
If the Lakers don’t want to go down the Caruso route then they can slot Dion Waiters into the role of the backup playmaker. This season is a very small sample size when looking at Waiters passing stats; Miami were not using Waiters as a playmaker and so he was only contributing one assist per game.
Taking a look back at the 2018-19 season, Waiters was averaging 2.8 assists per game with 1.8 assists per turnover. Waiters isn’t as strong or efficient of a passer compared to Caruso but he can still manage within the role.
What the Lakers decide could be situational because if there is more of a focus on a 3-point shooter then Dion Waiter is a great choice. However, if there is more of a focus on defense then Caruso is the better option.
Frank Vogel has a good dilemma in his hands as both guards can be competent in the role. There are over 20 games left to go so there’s still time to experiment with both in the role and analyse who’s more beneficial.
All stats up-to-date as of March 6.