Time for Kyle Kuzma to start?
Why the Lakers should consider starting rookie Kyle Kuzma at power forward and bringing Julius Randle off the bench
With the future of the franchise hanging on how well the team does this year, the Lakers should consider starting Kyle Kuzma at power forward and bringing Julius Randle off the bench. It’s a move I’ve advocated since summer which I believe would win games and make the Lakers a better team.
There are a multitude of reasons for Luke Walton to make the move but the biggest is Kyle Kuzma is a better fit in the starting lineup than Julius Randle. Kuzma has shown in summer league and last night he can be the missing stretch 4 the Lakers and every NBA team are searching for, something neither Julius Randle or Larry Nance, Jr. are capable of doing at this point in time. Luke Walton’s pace-and-space offense needs the spacing Kyle can provide.
The truth is Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. are players Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka inherited and likely would not have drafted due to their inability to shoot the 3 and spread the floor. Since drafting them, the Lakers’ offense has struggled to space the floor, usually starting a center and power forward who can’t shoot the 3. Trading for Lopez solved part of the problem. Replacing Randle with Kuzma would fully modernize the Lakers offense.
Imagine a Lakers starting lineup of Lonzo, KCP, Ingram, Kuzma, and Lopez, five starters capable of spotting up behind the 3-point line and hitting a trey. Imagine the lanes for Lonzo or Brandon or KCP to attack the rim with the opposing team’s bigs having been pulled out of the paint by Brook and Kyle. This was the lineup with Wear at the 5 and Kuzma at the 4 we saw during the summer league. You need shooters run a pace-and-space offense today.
The other major reason to start Kyle Kuzma at power forward is the chemistry he has developed with Lonzo Ball. They were the team’s dynamic duo in summer league and should be given the opportunity to do the same in the regular season. Lonzo’s long outlet passes and Kyle’s love of cherry picking are the perfect combination to turbo charge the Lakers’ transition game. Starting Kuzma would optimize Lonzo and Kyle’s on-court chemistry.
We saw last night that there will be games when Lonzo and Ingram may struggle to score double digits which will put pressure on the starting lineup to score, which is another reason to make Kuzma a starter. Just like last year, the Lakers are going to need points from our starters more than our bench. The reality is Kyle Kuzma has a better mindset and offensive game to be the team’s go-to scorer in the clutch than Brandon Ingram at this point.
Finally, I believe starting Kuzma would not only improve the Lakers’ offense but also add needed size, length, quickness, and versatility to the defense. I especially like the length and defensive potential of a Lakers’ front court trio of Ingram, Kuzma, and Lopez. All three are capable of providing strong paint protection and have the length to alter and block shots at the rim and Ingram and Kuzma have the versatility to switch and defend multiple positions.
There are other factors to be considered in starting Kuzma over Randle, including how the move would affect Randle as well as his contract situation. I actually think Randle’s game is a better fit for coming off the bench, where he can be the primary facilitator, playing as a point forward in the half court and grabbing rebounds and going coast-to-coast in transition. While Kuzma is a better fit to play with Lonzo, Randle is a better fit to lead the bench.
Replacing a 4-year veteran like Randle with a rookie like Kuzma sounds like a huge gamble when you’re also starting another rookie in Lonzo and second year player in Ingram but Kuzma and Randle are the same age. While it could lead to growing pains, starting Kuzma is the transformative move the Lakers need to optimize their offense and defense to help them make the playoffs and position the franchise as an attractive landing spot for elite free agents.