Lakers’ Future Big Three or Trade Bait?

Projecting whether the Lakers’ talented young trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma have superstar potential

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History clearly shows that you need more than your everyday superstar to win an NBA championship. You need a superstar who is an MVP candidate. And you need one or two additional elite players who are All-Star quality.

As the Lakers go shopping for superstars this summer, the question they need to answer is whether any of their young trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma have the potential to grow and develop into superstars. While it’s almost impossible to predict the ceiling for young players with only one or two NBA seasons, the Lakers’ young trio of Ball, Ingram, and Kuzma have already shown tantalizing glimpses of their potential superstar upside.

To that end, here is my ceiling for each of the Lakers’ young trio and my projection whether they will ultimately become superstars or trade bait:

Lonzo Ball, Point Guard, 6' 6", 190 lbs, Age: 20, Years: 1
10.2 points, 7.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 1.7 steals in 34.2 minutes

Ceiling: Reincarnation of Jason Kidd
Projection: MVP Candidate

While Lonzo Ball struggled with his shooting and minor injuries as a rookie, he proved he was a transcendent playmaker and floor general with 7.2 assists per game, which was 2nd among rookies and 9th among all players, and an elite individual and team defender with a 2.28 DRPM ranking, which was 1st among rookies, 3rd among all point guards, and 32nd among all players. Despite missing 30 games, Lonzo should make the NBA All-Rookie first team.

Lonzo Ball’s ceiling is a reincarnation of Jason Kidd. Before the season, all the talk was about Lonzo being a better 3-point shooter but lacking the defensive chops that were a huge part of what made Jason a Hall of Fame point guard. To everybody’s surprise, the reverse turned out to be true. Lonzo struggled mightily with his 3-point shot but proved the basketball smarts and instincts that made him so great on offense could also help him dominate on defense.

While Lonzo needs to work on his layups and free throws, there’s little doubt he has the smarts, skills, and talent to be as good or better than Jason Kidd. Lonzo’s rookie stats above were eerily similar to Jason’s rookie stats of 11.7 points, 7.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 0.3 blocks, 1.9 steals in 33.8 minutes. His 36.0%/30.5%/45.1% rookie shooting percentages were also similar to Jason Kidd’s 42.3%/27.2%/69.8% as a rookie, including subpar 3-point shooting.

While some fans may grumble and post comments about a possible trade, Lonzo Ball is clearly the future at point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. Among the Lakers’ trio of potential future stars, I believe Lonzo has the greatest chance to be an MVP candidate because of how he makes everybody around him better. He won’t lead the Lakers in points or rebounds but make no mistake, Lonzo Ball will become their next homegrown MVP candidate.

Brandon Ingram, Small Forward, 6' 9", 190 lbs, Age: 20, Years: 2
16.1 points, 3.9 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 0.8 steals in 33.5 minutes

Ceiling: Poor Man’s Kevin Durant
Projection: Perennial All-Star

Brandon Ingram made big strides his second NBA season after just averaging 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.6 steals in 28.8 minutes. He increased his shooting efficiency as a rookie from 40.2%/29.4%/62.1% to 47.0%/39.0%/68.1% his second year. While Brandon Ingram likely lacks the speed and quickness to become a true generational player like Kevin Durant, his ultimate upside won’t be that far behind although it will take him longer.

It’s on offense where Brandon Ingram is destined to shine, just like Kevin Durant, whom he most resembles as a young player. The combination of his length and ability to aggressively attack the basket or stop on a dime and swish a mid-range jumper or three make him a nightmare matchup. Ingram may not have Durant’s athleticism and quickness but he’s learned to change pace and use Euro steps and tricky slow motion moves to compensate.

The key for Brandon Ingram to reach his potential may depend upon whom the Lakers sign this summer. Offensively and defensively, Ingram’s natural and best position is small forward so the Lakers potentially signing LeBron James or Paul George or trading for Kawhi Leonard could force him to switch positions or come off the bench. If the Lakers think Ingram has the potential to be come a superstar, then they need to increase rather than limit his role.

It’s probably impossible for Brandon Ingram to average 30 points, 2.8 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game his third season like Kevin Durant did but he should be able to average 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists next season, which could give him a shot at making the All-Star team from the West. Brandon may never win league MVP honors and may always be viewed as a poor man’s Kevin Durant but still projects to become a perennial All-Star.

Kyle Kuzma, Power Forward, 6' 9", 220 lbs, Age: 22, Years: 1
16.1 points, 1.8 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 assists in 31.2 minutes

Ceiling: Poor Man’s Kobe Bryant
Projection: Perennial All-Star

While he may not have the freakish athleticism of a young Kobe, Kyle Kuzma still has the potential to be a poor man’s Kobe Bryant. The steal of the 2017 NBA Draft, Kuzma is the one player on the Lakers who possesses Kobe’s killer drive and clutch scorer’s mentality. With Laker fans chanting ‘Kuzzzzz’ every time he makes a big basket or play, Kuzma is a secret no more. Kobe himself sees the Mamba in Kyle Kuzma, which is why he’s taken him under his wing

Kyle Kuzma could be the model for the modern stretch four power forward. He’s a small forward with a shooting guard’s mind in a power forward’s body. At 6' 9' with a wingspan over 7 feet, Kuzma has elite ability to get and make a shot inside or outside, which makes him a matchup nightmare for slower power forwards or shorter small forwards. While he has the tools to be a plus defender and playmaker, Kyle Kuzma projects to be a top ten NBA scorer.

Kuzma could face a much tougher challenge than Ball or Ingram continuing his current role as the team’s go-to scorer to close out games since he could be competing with the veteran superstars the Lakers hope to sign this summer. Then there’s the issue of Kuzma needing to start but being blocked by Julius Randle, who also plays power forward. Bottom line, Kuzma is just too good to be coming off the bench even if playing starter minutes and closing games.

Whether the Lakers sign LeBron James or Paul George this summer, one change they should seriously consider in my opinion is moving Julius Randle to center and starting Kyle Kuzma at power forward. Like his mentor Kobe Bryant, Kyle Kuzma is too good not to be starting and Julius Randle’s best position honestly is probably small ball center. While his upside may only be a poor man’s Kobe Bryant, Kuzma has the potential to be a perennial All-Star.

The Lakers need to have a good idea of the ceiling for each of their young stars, especially when considering signing free agents or trading for players who play the same position. If Lonzo has potential to be an MVP contender and Brandon and Kyle to be perennial All-Stars, the Lakers would already have a future big three, which should motivate them to pursue free agents who complement rather than limit the development of their young stars.

Fortunately, the Lakers appear to understand what they have in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma and are going to give them another year to expand their potential and continue their journey to a future big three.

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