Time for the Lakers to start Kuzma?
Why starting Kuzma at small forward and Ingram at shooting guard would give the Lakers’ their best starting lineup
Lakers head coach Luke Walton has understandably been experimenting with different starting lineups seeking that perfect combination of playmakers, shooters, and defenders to play with newly acquired superstar LeBron James.
Limited by injuries to Lonzo Ball and Moritz Wagner and a desire to minimize LeBron’s minutes, Luke has rolled out a different starting lineup for each of the Lakers’ four exhibition games. The main competitions that have emerged are the battle for starting shooting guard between Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart and the battle for backup center between potential small ball centers Kyle Kuzma and Michael Beasley and traditional center Ivica Zubac.
With just two preseason games remaining and the season opener less than two weeks away, Luke faces a challenge deciding the five starters and five reserves who will comprise the Lakers’ 10-man rotations for the new season. After watching the team’s up-and-down performances in the first four games, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lakers should seriously consider moving Brandon Ingram to shooting guard and starting Kyle Kuzma at small forward.
A starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, and JaVale McGee would not only give the Lakers their biggest and most talented starting five but also its best potential lineup on offense and defense. More importantly, it would give all three of the Lakers budding young stars — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma — the opportunity not only to start and play together but also to play and bond with LeBron James.
If the Lakers seriously want to optimize the growth of their three young stars, then they need to play these guys together and with LeBron. We’ve already seen in the four preseason games how important playing with LeBron is going to be to the growth and development of the Lakers’ young players. Starting their three young stars along with LeBron and JaVale this season is the best strategy to get ready to challenge the Golden State Warriors next season.
Starting Kuzma at small forward and replacing Hart or Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard with Ingram would boost the Lakers’ offense and defense. Offensively, Kuzma would be a huge upgrade over Hart or KCP. He’s a better finisher on the break and has always had special rapport and chemistry as a target for Lonzo Ball’s full court outlet passes. Starting him at small forward rather than playing him as backup power forward or center makes sense.
Defensively, moving Brandon Ingram from small forward to shooting guard to play with Lonzo Ball would pair the Lakers’ two best perimeter defenders in what could be the biggest and longest defensive backcourts in the league. Right now, there is no other move the Lakers could make which would have a transformative impact on their defense. Lonzo and BI could be the backcourt duo the Lakers need to control penetration and challenge 3-point shooters.
Positionless basketball is all about putting skilled players at every position and taking advantage of the mismatches that are created. Ingram with his height and length at shooting guard and Kuzma with his speed and quickness at small forward create mismatch nightmares at both ends for opponents. Starting Kuzma over Hart or KCP and moving Ingram to shooting guard are moves to transform the Lakers’ starting lineup into a championship squad.
Whether their goal is to start their best five players to win more games or accelerate the growth of your young stars, the Lakers need to start Kyle Kuzma at small forward and move Brandon Ingram to shooting guard.