John Raoux/Associated Press
Bradley was playing 24.2 minutes per game this year as the team’s starting shooting guard. He’s a decent shooter, but he primarily contributed as a hard-nosed defender and off-ball mover on offense. Neither Waiters nor Smith fit that bill, but the Lakers already boast depth at the two in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso—both more capable shooters and defenders than the new gunslingers.
KCP already plays 25.4 minutes per game, Caruso, 17.8, so while they may be first in line to step up, there are theoretically enough minutes to go around for Waiters and Smith to slide into the rotation. Head coach Frank Vogel appears conscious of that and recognizant of the two shooters’ contrasting talent, as he alluded to their fit alongside LeBron James when speaking to the media, despite being noncommittal about their roles.
“Obviously with LeBron handling a lot of times as the point guard, you can play a lot of shot-making wings with him. So we’re going to have versatility. I don’t know exactly where they’re going to fit into a rotation … But they’ll have opportunities in those seeding games to show what they do, and how they fit into this group.”
Statistically, Caldwell-Pope and Caruso may have the shooting percentages to feel like suitable “shot-making wings,” but everyone knows the scoring caliber Waiters and Smith’s entire careers are built on. Both are quintessential gunners who often disrupt a half-court set’s ball movement but excel when things start to scramble.
James excels at making defenses scramble, hence a history of shot-happy pieces flourishing at his side.
Smith is 34 years old and hasn’t played NBA ball since November 2018. Waiters is still 28, but he saw his role diminish, and his reputation alongside it, to the extent that he played just three games for the Miami Heat this season before being unceremoniously traded to, and subsequently waived by, the Memphis Grizzlies.
But shooting is like riding a bike, and the entire Association has most certainly accrued some rust, leaving a chance that the two can carve back into a rotation should their bottomless floors ascend somewhere toward their scoring ceilings.
Los Angeles boasts James, an exceptional playmaker, in its starting lineup and another, Rajon Rondo, in its bench group. Both have built their careers, in part, off of maximizing the talent of the scorers surrounding them. While Vogel called his new acquisitions “super talented,” he also candidly professed that the lineup may include “neither of them on certain nights.”
Smith and Waiters will get some chances, though. Their defense, cuts and knowledge of the L.A. system may not be anywhere near KCP or Caruso’s, but their scoring upside is a tremendous fit for James and Rondo’s systems. Stamina, a modicum of defense and patience withstanding, there’s a chance these iconic scorers can hit playoff hardwood.