Which Lakers free agents fit best under Darvin Ham?

On his first day as the Los Angeles Lakers’ new head coach, Darvin Ham didn’t shy away from opening up about the changes he wants to see his new team implement. The first-time head coach said his goal is not only to bring back the Lakers’ defensive identity and transition offense from two years ago, but also to deploy a motion-4-out-1 system that will abide by the team next season.

The 4-out 1-in system is pretty self-explanatory – one player positions himself inside the paint (most of the time in the dunker spot) while the other four move around the perimeter. It’s one of the most popular and versatile offenses in modern basketball. Check out this diagram below for an example of what a 4-out-1 setup can look like:

And here’s a sample play that the Lakers could utilize under the umbrella of a 4-out 1-in scheme:

This system prioritizes a spaced floor while encouraging movement within a highly flexible alignment. Coming from Milwaukee, hopefully Ham can port over the Bucks’ elite year-over-year offensive efficiency along with the scheme that they have used in the past few seasons. Theoretically, if there’s one player capable of approximating Giannis’ offensive dynamism, it’s LeBron James.

Because of its versatility, the 4-out-of-1 offense can help teams exploit mismatches and confuse opposing defenses with its unpredictability. However, in order to maximize the utility of this system, every member of the team needs to play their part accordingly.

Obviously, finding the right players that would fit Ham’s system and principles is easier said than done, especially given the Lakers.Limited roster and salary cap flexibility. Still, Los Angeles needs to make it their top priority when they build their roster this offseason because if they don’t, their coaches will be ill-equipped to carry their gameplan for the second straight season.

That said, here are the types of players the Lakers should target this summer as well as what they need to address in order to actualize Ham’s vision for the team:

Find point-of-attack defenders

The lack of a point-of-attack defense was one of the biggest reasons why the Lakers ranked 24th in the league in defensive rating (114.3) last season. An aberration for a Frank Vogel team, it was obvious that LA just didn’t have the right personnel on the defensive end.

They can’t replicate their porous performance again this coming season, especially if Ham has made it known that he wants to generate good offense with good defense. Ham said that one of his visions is to make sure the Lakers develop a habit of running. This starts with acquiring defensive-minded perimeter players who can pressure the ball, disrupt passing lanes, and prevent opponents from easily moving into the paint to turn the defense into offense by generating stops and fastbreak buckets.

Get a stretch 5

Given that the 4-out 1-in system is extremely perimeter dependent, the Lakers need to find a big one who can stretch the floor by knocking down outside shots in order to open up the driving lanes. There is no point in running the 4-out 1-in-the-offense if the “4-out” can’t all shoot.

If LA manages to nab a 5-man who can shoot as well as protect the rim, then that would be a home run offense, defense, and Anthony Davis (who prefers playing the 4). The Bucks had that player in Brook Lopez, but the Lakers might be able to get a similar contribution from a slept-on trade candidate like Mike Muscala. Frank Vogel’s Lakers are often deployed as athletic, rim-running bigs as opposed to more ground-bound shooters that may fit into Ham’s system. It would be interesting to see which player-type Lakers do eventually choose to pursue.

Prioritize 3-and-D wings

The Lakers need the Arguably the greatest of positions, no team can have enough of these highly-coveted players. Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma each filled a 3-and-D role for the 2020 Lakers (with varying degrees of shooting and defense), but both have since left Los Angeles for the Eastern Conference. The Lakers need at least one guy, and probably more, to guard multiple positions and keep the floor spaced offensively for the superior playmakers to work, even if they don’t have the on-ball juice to do it themselves.

Ham knows he needs a roster with wings that do all the little things that make basketball happen, like Cutting the basket, crashing the glass, shooting from the outside, attacking a closeout, and making the right offensive reads in order to make good on LeBron James’ all-time great advantage creation.

Develop in-house pieces

Ham said that one of his primary goals this season is to further the development of Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Talen Horton Tucker – three of the team’s best young assets under contract. All three represent relatively incomplete versions of the ideal contributors to a winning basketball team, lacking some specific skills that will make them an elite supporting cast of core members. While they all have a variety of pathways to improvement, each of them needs to shoot better in order to make themselves truly viable.

The Westbrook situation

So much or not of Ham’s system will be predicated on a breakthrough on what the Lakers plan to do with Westbrook this summer. If they decide to run it back, then there is a good chance that most of the roster spots will be filled with veteran minimum players just like last season. How sure are we that these players can be trusted to play in a two-way system that requires high IQ and pristine execution?

If Los Angeles does end up trading Westbrook, beggars can’t be choosers, but they have to at least take in players who fill in some of the required positions mentioned above. The Lakers need to get a Russell Westbrook trade if they want to give Ham a fair chance to coach this team next season.

Building and retooling the roster will be the hardest and most important task for Rob Pelinka and Ham this summer. The good news is that both of them are already on the same page and promised to construct the team around Ham’s system and principles. Only time will tell if they can pull it off, but their performance this summer may define the ultimate end of this Lakers season before it even starts.

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