EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With just over 24 hours remaining before their 2016-17 preseason opener in Anaheim, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton has yet to determine his starting lineup against the Sacramento Kings.
“I don’t know,” Walton said Monday when asked to name his starting unit. “We’ll figure it out before game time.”
When asked if Julius Randle were the favorite to start at power forward, Walton admitted that there are frontrunners for certain positions, but as of now the race for starting spots is open.
“We don’t know our starters yet,” he said. “We’ll figure it out later today. It’s open. I have an idea of who the frontrunners are, but we haven’t really sat down to make the final decision on that yet.”
If Monday's practice is any indication, though, the Lakers will roll with their projected starting five: D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt, Luol Deng and Randle at the forward spots, and Timofey Mozgov at center.
During the portion of practice open to the media, the Purple team (Russell, Louis Williams, Deng, Randle and Mozgov) scrimmaged against the White team (Marcelo Huertas, Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black) in what looked like a battle between the presumed first and second units (except Clarkson would swap with Williams).
Walton has said Ingram will come off the bench, which suggests Deng will start, and Russell, Clarkson and Mozgov appear to have clear advantages at their respective positions. The only mystery remaining is if Nance Jr. can snatch the final frontcourt spot from Randle.
"You're not looking for individual things," Walton said of comparing Randle and Nance Jr. "You watch the game as a whole. You see if they're playing well in certain groups. There's always chemistry between some players. Can Julius guard 5s? Can Larry guard 5s? Does a unit need a bigger and stronger player out there? Or do they need someone that can switch multiple positions?
"You look for all those things. You get the information, come to practice, see if it can work and game plan around that."
Of even greater interest might be who makes the end of the bench. With 20 players fighting for 15 roster spots, there are bound to be some difficult decisions and painful cuts, which Walton says is unfortunate, given how well everyone has played.
"I didn't come in with any expectations," he said. "Everyone's had a great camp, honestly. Even guys that are trying to fight for that last spot. [Thomas] Robinson. [Travis] Wear. Julian [Jacobs] has been great, competing, picking up point guards full court. These guys have been giving us maximum effort.
"I wouldn't really say anyone's been a surprise. Everyone's just been really good."
Although Walton would certainly prefer to win Tuesday, he continues to take a process-over-results approach. His goal for the preseason is not necessarily to win games but to coach up his players, experiment with lineups and styles of play, and create a large enough sample to glean what works and what doesn't.
"We're not going to coach in a manner where winning is the ultimate goal, like it is a lot of times once you’re in the regular season," he said. "We're going to look to have all sorts of coaching examples from the film we can pull. We're going to give a lot of people playing time. No one is going to be playing 30, 40 minutes.
"We're going to try different lineups out together. See if we can find a small lineup that works well together or find a big lineup that can switch everything. It'll be more just getting to know the team."