Surrounding LeBron with shooters!
How starting Lonzo and Kuzma instead of Rondo and Ingram will give the Lakers the shooting and spacing to optimize LeBron
While there were sound reasons to start Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, there’s an emerging sense that Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma could be better fits starting and playing alongside LeBron James for the Los Angeles Lakers.
While unfortunate, the suspensions of Rondo and Ingram may have opened the door and given Ball and Kuzma the opportunity to show they should start. The Lakers were criticized this summer for not acquiring more shooters to give LeBron the spacing he needs to attack the basket. The Lakers prioritized playmakers and defenders partly because they thought they had the shooters. It’s starting to look like they do but just weren’t starting them with LeBron.
With limited preseason and new personnel, the Lakers are a work in progress. But what’s become clear every game is Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart are the best fit to start and play alongside LeBron James and JaVale McGee. What they bring to the starting lineup are three shooters who can and will confidently pull the trigger on a three every single time they’re open, which is something you can’t say about Rondo, Ingram, or Caldwell-Pope right now.
Last night, Lonzo took 7 threes and made 3 of them while Kuzma took 10 threes and sank 4 of them and Hart took 7 and hit 4 of them. As a team, the Lakers hoisted a season high 39 threes, hitting 14 for 35.9%, which enabled them to keep up with the red hot Spurs even though they hit 15 of 28 threes for 53.6%. This was the first time this season the Lakers were able to hold their own from deep and it gave them their first real chance for a win.
Despite the Lakers as a team shooting a dismal 28.7% from beyond the arc, there are some encouraging signs. Josh Hart is now shooting 47.1% (8/17) and Lonzo Ball 42.1% (8/19) from deep. Because of Luke experimenting with playing him as a small ball center, Kyle Kuzma got off to a dreadful start and is still only shooting 27.1% (6/22) from deep but finally broke out last night when Luke finally relented and started him at the four next to LeBron.
If the Lakers want to surround LeBron with capable 3-point shooters, then they need to start Ball, Hart, and Kuzma. They’re the team’s best 3-point shooters and options to create the spacing and shooting to optimize LeBron. They’re personally responsible for 70% (58/82) of the threes attempted and 81% (22/27) of the threes made by LeBron’s teammates. In fact, no other LeBron teammate has taken more than 7 or made more than 2 threes.
The big question for the Lakers if they decide to start Ball, Hart, and Kuzma alongside James and McGee is what do they do with Ingram when his 4-game suspension is over? Viewed by many as the young Laker most likely to become an All-Star, Brandon had gotten off to a rough start even before getting suspended. The reality is Ingram is best with the ball in his hands which makes him a difficult fit to start along with Lonzo and LeBron.
Coming off the bench and playing with Rondo against other teams’ second units could be the best option for Ingram until he gets his mojo back. He and Rondo could anchor an elite Lakers’ second unit along with KCP and Lance. Brandon has such much potential on defense that he could ultimately force his way back into the starting lineup before long. There’s also a chance he’ll be part of the Lakers’ closing fivesome regardless of whether he starts or not.
It’s still early and the next two or three games will obviously impact what happens when Rondo and Ingram return from suspensions. In the meantime, I’m going to binge on watching Lonzo, Kyle, and Josh roll with LeBron.