Lakers

With Rondo Sidelined, Expect More Caruso, Smith and Waiters

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Rondo Sidelined

News broke last week that point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a fractured right thumb. He will be out six-to-eight weeks, according to Lakers team reporter Mike Trudell. Based on the estimated recovery timeline, Rondo could return to action as early as Aug. 18, or at the beginning of the second playoff round on Sept. 1.

Before the reports, however, photos of a shredded Rondo circulated on social media, and even a video of him sparring with a trainer surfaced.

But with the latest setback to the second-year Laker, we won’t see more boxing videos any time soon. Nor will we see him on the court when LA resumes play on July 30.

Teammates Step Up

What and who we will see more is Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters, and JR Smith. And while injuries are never right, this is an opportunity for Frank Vogel and co. to see what these guys can do in Vogel’s system alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

I emphasized the two newest members of the purple and gold. If you’ve watched the Lakers at all this season, you know that Caruso is not only a fan-favorite but a hooper. He fits seamlessly with Bron and AD.

Caruso had only been seeing about 18 minutes per game before the shutdown compared to Rondo’s 21 minutes. He will likely see a significant uptick in minutes because of Rondo’s injury. He will presumably lead the second unit, assuming Kentavious Caldwell-Pope moves into the starting lineup, replacing Avery Bradley.

However, Caruso brings a lot that Rondo didn’t. The Texas A&M product shot 36 percent from deep with a near 54 percent true-shooting output this season. He’s very sound defensively and capable of guarding positions one-three. He often holds his ground when boxing out bigs in the paint, too. Caruso also does an impressive job of reading passing lanes, help-side defense, and not cheating by going for steals.

At 6-foot-5, Caruso constantly slashes to the basket without the ball, aggressively attacks the basket with the ball, and finishes strong at the basket.

In Rondo’s defense, however, he’s a 14-year veteran with plenty of playoff experience and a championship ring. He is also a certified floor general, but at 26 years of age, Caruso has time to develop into one, something we could and would love to see with his more significant role moving forward.

And a reserve lineup featuring Caruso at the point, JR and Waiters on either wing, Kuz or Morris as the stretch four, and Howard at center gives the Lakers more shot creators and perimeter shooting. The Lakers currently rank 17th in the league at about 36 percent outside, which is acceptable. However, they only make 11.1 triples a game, which is 22nd most.

JR’s Assist

With JR, also a former NBA champion with years of playoffs experience, LA gets more floor spacing and a career 37 percent shooter from beyond the arc. And that championship Smith won was with LeBron in Cleveland. Despite what happened in the 2018 Finals, the two remain reliable friends and have a history of playing well together.

Smith hasn’t played NBA basketball since the 2018-19 season. However, Vogel feels he and Waiters, who only played in three games this season, should get up to speed quickly.

“We have a pretty simple system that we hope can be picked up pretty quickly,” Vogel said in a July 6 press conference. “Our guys picked it up pretty quickly to start this season, and we hope it’s going to be the same for both Dion and JR.”

Waiters Impressive

The Lakers signed Waiters off waivers before the NBA shutdown. He was set to make his debut before Covid-19 flipped the world. Thankfully, Vogel said Waiters has been impressive in practice so far.

“He shot the heck out of the ball yesterday (July 5), that was an encouraging thing,” Vogel said. “Conditioning will be a concern, but the talent is obvious when you watch him workout. When you watch him handle the ball and create shots off the bounce. He’s one of the more talented guys in this league.”

A career 35 percent perimeter shooter, Waiters will provide the Lakers with some firepower off the bench and will get his shot whenever he wants.

Fortunately for Rondo and the Lakers, the point guard has three weeks to recover before their first tip-off. Still, I want to see what Caruso can do in an advanced role, and I wish JR and Waiters get some burn to see if they still got it. Hopefully, they validate Pelinka (and LeBron’s) decisions to bring them onto a team contending and heavily favored win the championship.

(All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA)

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About Sandeep Chandok

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