There’s no question Luke Walton is looking forward to this season and a big reason is rookie Kyle Kuzma, the talented 22-year old power forward from Utah whose 3-point shooting and defense make him the perfect candidate to become the missing ‘Stretch 4’ the Lakers need to modernize their offense.
Transforming the Lakers 5-man lineups into a modern pace-and-space offense has been a difficult challenge for Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton, primarily due to personnel decisions made by the team’s previous regime, who drafted two power forwards who couldn’t stretch the floor as 3-point shooters in Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr., allowing opposing defenses sag into the paint and make it hard for the Lakers to run their offense.
The result was a series of Lakers lineups with never more than 3 capable 3-point shooters on the floor together, which also meant there were always at least 2 Lakers whom defenders could sag off of to clog up the middle. While Luke was able to get the Lakers offense to generate more pace, he struggled with the roster he inherited to create the spacing he needed to run a modern pace-and-space offense similar to that of Golden State.
That has all changed now with the new front office regime, who has made adding 3-point shooters, especially in the front court, a personnel priority. The trade for Brook Lopez, a true ‘Stretch 5,’ was the first big step, giving the Lakers a shooter who led NBA centers in 3-point attempts and makes. Drafting Thomas Bryant, a 7-foot sweet shooting center from Indiana, was further proof the Lakers envision a future where every player shoots 3's.
The second big step was drafting Utah power forward Kyle Kuzma, who wowed the Lakers in his combine workout with his 3-point shooting and defensive versatility and is looking more and more like a steal at #27. Kuzma continued wowing the Lakers in the Las Vegas Summer League, joining fellow rookie Lonzo Ball to lead the Lakers to the championship, winning 1st team all-summer league and championship game MVP.
A rangy, long 6–10 forward with the potential to play and defend multiple positions, Kuzma will likely enter training camp as the #3 power forward behind starter Julius Randle and first backup Larry Nance, Jr. But expect Kuzma to continue to wow the Lakers in training camp this fall with his versatility and growing fit alongside Lonzo Ball. I believe there’s a good chance Kyle will start the season as the Lakers’ first forward off the bench.
Kuzma’s offensive and defensive versatility is what will make him Luke’s favorite player off the bench this season. Offensively, I see Kuzma coming in for Randle, giving the Lakers a lineup with 5 capable 3-point shooters. We saw a preview of this lineup in summer where the Lakers ran a lot of 5-out sets with Kuzma and Wear at the 4 and 5. I think we will see more of this lineup in this season, with Kuzma potentially becoming our 6th man.
Defensively, I see Luke substituting Kyle and Larry for Julius and Brook, creating the Lakers’ best defensive lineup with Lonzo and KCP at guard, Brandon and Kyle at forward, and Larry Nance, Jr. at small ball center. Expect the Lakers to play small ball whenever Lopez is on the bench. Anchored by two proven plus defenders in by Nance and KCP, I think this lineup could become the Lakers version of the Warriors Death Lineup.
With all the draft attention rightly focused on Lonzo Ball, the Lakers may have come away with the steal of the draft and a potential game changer in Kyle Kuzma at #27. He could transform the Lakers with his ability to be the missing piece to an offensive lineup with 5 capable 3-point shooters and a defensive lineup with 5 plus defenders. That’s why the Lakers are going to give him every chance in camp. They know sky’s the limit for Kyle Kuzma.