Probably made right around the time that 80% of next year’s team was born. Frick.
It’s always fun to speculate on lineups, and with our offseason now more than a week underway, it’s about time to start doing that for next year’s squad. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Nerlens is leaving for the NBA. Assume also that everyone else is staying. There’s no question that we’d have a lot of depth, and while Cal likes getting into a solid 7-man formation, that might not be possible with that lineup. Question is, though, who starts?
Initial instinct is to say that the highly touted freshmen, particularly those in the Top Ten, would start immediately. That’s probably true for at least Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle, regardless of returnees. But don’t be so hasty to assume that some of the other guys will be thrown into spots with established players already. If Archie, Alex, and Willie stay, is it obvious that they’d get replaced as starters. At the very least, not immediately.
Remember that last year (or year before last, it’s hard to say which at this point in the offseason), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist began the season relieving Darius Miller. Did we suspect that MKG had a little more ability than Miller did at that point? I mean, probably. He didn’t exactly surprise anyone with how good he was, even though he did impress a few people. But Darius got the starting spot. Why? Because MKG hadn’t earned it to start the season. Want to see a player work hard? On a deep team, that’s easy. Put him on the bench. That’s one reason this year’s team might have struggled so much; with no depth, there was no real competition. They were guaranteed their starting spots, regardless of performance.
Next year, though, don’t think that James Young, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, or Marcus Lee will start the first game. They might, but I really suspect they won’t. Again, Andrew and Julius probably will start, if only because of the current dearth of talent at their positions (Alex might be moved to SF in this scenario), and because they’re top ten players. But expect to see a starting lineup that looks something like: Andrew Harrison, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Julius Randle, and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Is your initial reaction to that frustration? Because mine was. But it makes sense. Make the new players earn their spots from the returners. Even if we think that other people could be better in those spots, we don’t know. We’re not the coach or the scout or anything like that. This way, the new players are motivated to work hard in practice, to potentially reach up and get that starting spot for themselves. Essentially, they have the opportunity to be like MKG.
So in all of this, the real question should be: who starts at the beginning of the season, and who starts at the end? It’s very likely that those will be two very different answers.