However, he did so while pointing out one notable factor in the decision.
“Darvin Ham says Taurean Prince will start at small forward on opening night,” Jovan Buha of The Athletic posted on X on October 21. “He says it’s partly circumstantial due to Jarred Vanderbilt’s injury.”
Vanderbilt, according to Ham via Buha and others, is “day-to-day” with a heel injury that limited him to just one game this preseason: the Lakers’ preseason opening, 125-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Perhaps most importantly given Ham’s comments, Vanderbilt started that contest.
Prince would start the rest of the games in which the other four members of the starting lineup were active.
He averaged 9.3 points and shot 45.8% from beyond the arc this preseason.
“He’s fit right in,” D’Angelo Russell said via Lakers Fam on October 15. “Offensively he’s done what he’s always done: being aggressive behind the arc, attack closeouts, do it efficiently. He’s got a lot to his game. He’s not just a shooter. Then on the defensive end, he’s a fearless competitor. … He does everything.”
Prince signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract this offseason. He spent the last two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, starting 12 of his 123 appearances in that span. Prince averaged 8.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 37.8% from long distance in those starts.
Ham mentioning Vanderbilt’s absence is significant.
However, the qualifier in Buha’s report that Prince starting is only “partly circumstantial” insinuates that Prince could have been named the starter even if Vanderbilt was healthy.
Jarred Vanderbilt Started for Lakers Last Season
The Lakers acquired Vanderbilt from the Utah Jazz at the trade deadline in February last season in the same three-team deal that brought Russell to L.A. He signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension this offseason, perhaps alluding to his starting role.
Vanderbilt averaged 7.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 26 appearances with the Lakers last season.
He also started the final 24 regular season contests and 15 of the Lakers’ 16 playoff games.
They finished the season on an 18-8 run and made what Reaves considered an unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals after their slow start to the season. The lineup’s effectiveness plummeted in the postseason to minus-2.5 in 413 possessions. But a full offseason together could help them get their groove back.
Lakers Flexing Depth
Ham has praised the quality of the Lakers’ depth this offseason, and the fact he had three viable options to choose from in Prince, Vanderbilt, and Rui Hachimura is a testament to that.
But it is the buy-in from the players that will make it work.
“I feel really, really good about what we did,” Reaves said, per Sam Yip of HoopsHype on August 9. “Those pieces fit really well with what we kinda need because we lacked that last year. Overall, everybody’s competitive, and we kinda got that taste last year of running it back and trying to win a championship.”