If there was a silver lining in the Los Angeles Lakers’ discouraging loss to the Houston Rockets last night, it was continued good play of Kyle Kuzma, who posted 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in 30 minutes.
As Frank Vogel and the Lakers look for a way to break out of the shooting slump they’re currently mired in and allay doubts about their ability to win the championship, the obvious solution is to start their three best players. The only positive development the Lakers can take away from their first five seeding games has been Kyle Kuzma’s emergence as the team’s third best player, who should remain to be in the starting lineup with LeBron and AD.
Kyle Kuzma’s team-best three-point shooting and dramatically improved defense are perfect fits to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis and what the Lakers’ starting lineup needs to recapture its lost momentum. In the five bubble games played, Kyle’s averaged 14.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.4 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 27.3 minutes while still shooting a strong 46.0% from the field, 46.2% from deep, and 70.0% from the line.
Kuzma has earned the opportunity to start for the Lakers. Along with Waiters and Caruso, he’s one of only three Lakers’ players to have posted a positive net rating and cumulative plus/minus for the five seeding games. His improved shot selection and defense also show Kyle’s learned how to play off the ball and allow the game to come to him, which are critical traits to be able to play with superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
With just three ‘warm up’ games left for the Lakers before the playoffs begin, Vogel needs to make final decisions on his rotations and give his playoff lineups some time on the court to get comfortable playing together. If the coach is going to start his three best players — James, Davis, and Kuzma — then the big question then becomes who should be the other two Lakers starters? I think that decision should depend upon the matchups.
If the Lakers play a team with a traditional center, then it could make sense to start McGee, keep Davis at power forward to limit his low post banging and pull the opposing center out of the paint, and bench KCP or Green. LeBron is essentially playing point guard on offense and Kuzma continues to show the athleticism and ability to defend bigger shooting guards as he demonstrated defending the Rockets’ James Harden in last night’s game.
If the Lakers play a small ball team like the Rockets or a team with a stretch five center like the Nuggets, then it could be smart to start Anthony Davis at the five since he has the skill set to defend players out to the 3-point line. The Lakers would then start Caldwell-Pope and Green at guard, keeping Waiters and Caruso as the guard tandem off the bench, which would need their productivity since Kuzma would mostly be playing with the starters.
Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris would also get minutes off the bench and maybe Talen Horton-Tucker. Based on the results so far, Quinn Cook, JR Smith, Devontae Cacok, or Kostas Antetokounmpo will likely be DNP’s. That means a 10 or 11 player rotation of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Danny Green, Dion Waiters, Alex Caruso, Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, and maybe THT.
The Lakers have not played well in the bubble so far, which puts them in a worrisome position with just three ‘warm up’ games until the playoffs. The team’s 3-point shooting and once great momentum has abandoned them. They’re still waiting to see Playoff LeBron and questions about his groin are concerning. Anthony Davis’ play has been a roller coaster and the team’s offensive stats for 3-point shooting and team offense rank dead last.
Right now, the Lakers’ championship hopes are in serious danger. They need something to shake them out of their malaise and inspire them to play better. Starting James, Davis, and Kuzma could be the spark they need.
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