How Will Kuzma Extension and THT Preseason Affect the Lakers Rotations?
After a brilliant offseason and undefeated preseason, the only questions facing the NBA defending champion Lakers now are how will Kyle Kuzma’s extension and Talen Horton-Tucker’s preseason affect the team’s rotations?
While neither is likely to be in the starting lineup when the Lakers kick off the season tomorrow night against their crosstown rival Clippers, Kuzma’s extension and THT’s breakout preseason could translate into more minutes. There’s no doubt the Lakers have doubled down on their belief Kyle Kuzma can be a big time contributor going forward and Talen Horton-Tucker has legitimate star potential and is ready to challenge for more playing time.
All of which further complicates the decisions facing Frank Vogel as he tries to figure out how to manage what appears to be an unusually deep and talented Lakers’ rotation with 11 players who deserve regular minutes. Fortunately, the saving grace for Vogel may be the NBA’s shortened and compressed regular season schedule and Lakers’ need to ease the load for 35-year old LeBron James and a team with little time off after winning.
One answer to Vogel’s dilemma may be to sit two or three players each game to reduce the rotation to a manageable eight or nine players and while load managing to keep the team fresh and healthy for the playoffs. This would allow the Lakers to play the lineups that best matchup against each opponent and guarantee all players always had enough minutes to develop good rhythm and strong rapport and chemistry with teammates.
Deploying shifting matchup rotations would also giee Vogel the opportunity to see which combinations of players worked best against potential playoff opponents to help narrow the Lakers’ rotations heading into the postseason. Strategically, it’s a perfect fit for this season’s unique schedule featuring conference teams playing each other twice in a row to reduce travel. It also would prepare teams for possible rotation changes caused by Covid-19.
But let’s take a closer look on how Kyle Kuzma’s extension and Talen Horton-Tucker’s breakout preseason could affect the Lakers’ lineups and rotations and whose minutes and roles could be affected as a result:
It’s definitely a vote of confidence and encouraging news for Kyle Kuzma that Rob Pelinka not only did not pull the trigger on a trade involving him this offseason but also signed him to a new 3-year $40 million extension. Since rookie extensions include poison pill restrictions making it hard to match salaries if a team trades the player before the extension kicks in, Kuzma is likely going to be with the Lakers for the entire 2020–21 season.
Kuzma’s rookie extension is interesting because it’s the first one the Lakers have given a player they drafted since Andrew Bynum back in 2008 and the first extension for a player on this roster who was not a Klutch Sports client. While the extension should take a load off Kuzma's shoulders and give him confidence, expectations will continue to exceed what he’s delivered in the past and the pressure will be on him to show he’s worthy of the contract.
The challenge for Kuzma the last two years has been finding a role on the Lakers that would pay him what he’s worth considering he wants to be a starter but right now he’s stuck behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Players in today’s NBA can play the positions they can defend and Kyle Kuzma has shown promising potential as an elite defender against bigger wing players like James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Devin Booker.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Frank Vogel gives Kyle Kuzma more opportunities to play the two as he did during the preseason. Right now, Kuzma’s main role will be to backup LeBron off the bench at the three. But I also think we’ll continue to see Kuz get minutes at the two, especially when the Lakers face wing scorers too big for Caruso and KCP to handle. Playing the two could ultimately be Kuzma’s path to becoming a starter.
Talen Horton-Tucker’s breakout preseason presents head coach Frank Vogel with the same challenge he faces with Kyle Kuzma: finding enough minutes for a player who could potentially become a star and a future Lakers’ starter. Since Talen will be a restricted free agent next summer, the Lakers need to learn how good he can be. Since they have his Early Bird Rights, they can only offer him the MLE though they can match any offer he might receive.
Like Kuzma, Horton-Tucker fills a role other players on the roster cannot fill. Should the Lakers start Schroder, Talen’s ability to get to the rim and make plays for others make him the team’s best option as backup point guard. That would leave Alex Caruso and Wes Matthews competing for the backup minutes at shooting guard role assuming KCP starts at the two, although Matthews is very capable of playing backup minutes at the three.
Horton-Tucker can also fill a valuable offensive and defensive roles as a backup at shooting guard and small forward because of his ability to get to the rim and defend bigger wing scorers with his length and physicality. Talen’s extensive skill set enables him to play three positions: point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. That versatility at both ends of the court could easily translate into more minutes for Horton-Tucker.
Finally, there’s no question Talen has star potential. His game is already leaps and bounds beyond what could be expected from the 20-year old second round draft pick and the Lakers clearly know and understand that. The Lakers coaching staff views Talen primarily as a point guard and will likely give him the backup minutes to prove that’s his position, which means Alex Caruso may need to compete for minutes at shooting guard.
No matter what Frank Vogel does, the simple truth is ther roster is too deep and there are two few minutes for the Lakers to use an 11-player rotation, which means the solution should be to utilize shifting matchup rotations. That gives everybody a chance to play, provides LeBron James and older players with load management, and deals with the vagaries of a shortened and compressed schedule and possible absences due to Covid-19.
Kuma’s extension and Horton-Tucker’s preseason have exacerbated Frank Vogel’s rotation challenges. Either he adopts some form of shifting matchup rotations or ends up limiting at least two good players to minor minutes. One of the hallmarks of last year’s championship team was how every player on the roster was willing to sacrifice for the good of the team but this year’s team is much deeper or more talented than last year’s team.
With Kuzma’s extension and THT’s preseason demanding more minutes, Frank Vogel and the Lakers need to seriously consider sitting two or three players each game so they can deploy an eight or nine man rotation.
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