Why the Lakers Should Play Small!
The Los Angeles Lakers’ response to DeMarcus Cousins devastating injury should be to play smaller and faster not bigger and slower
While the Los Angeles Lakers are going to miss DeMarcus Cousins, it won’t be for his bully ball offense or interior defense. It will be for his three-point shooting and ability to create space for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
That’s why the calls for the Lakers to sign Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, or Kenneth Faried are ill advised. The last thing the Lakers need is to replace a great space creator like Cousins with a space eater in their starting lineup. Hamstringing the offense with a player who can’t stretch the floor will only make it easier for opposing defenses to clog up the lane and make it more difficult to free up LeBron James and Anthony Davis to attack the paint.
The Lakers need to continue to focus on playing pace-and-space basketball, which probably means replacing DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup with Kyle Kuzma, who has the potential to become the Lakers’ third star. Boogie’s injury could give Kuzma the opportunity to take his game to the next level and prove the Lakers were right to prioritize keeping him. He’s the perfect fit to stretch the floor and play off the ball with LeBron and AD.
The Lakers would be smart to continue to save their last roster spot for Andre Iguodala rather than waste it on a questionable free agent who would only handicap the team’s need to create space for their superstars. While waiving Cousins to create another roster spot for a backup center would be an option, the wiser move could be to stand pat and hope Boogie can recover and return in nine months to help the Lakers in the playoffs.
That’s a move that could pay off big for the Lakers long term as it would show Davis how the Lakers treat their superstars and could motivate him to volunteer to play more minutes at the five until Boogie is able to return. The potential silver lining is the move would open the door to the Lakers retaining Cousins long term if he recovers by signing him to a two-year deal for the MLE this summer, which would give the Lakers his Bird rights.
The Lakers are fortunate DeMarcus Cousins’ injury happened now rather than during the season as it gives them time in training camp to make adjustments and explore their options to replace him in the rotation. While they’re going to miss Boogie, the Lakers have several viable options already on the roster to replace him at center, especially if they opt to go small with Anthony Davis, LeBron James, or Kyle Kuzma as a small ball center.
The Lakers’ best option to replace DeMarcus Cousins at center is obviously Anthony Davis, who finds himself in the exact same situation as he was a year and a half ago with the Pelicans when Boogie tore his Achilles. While they don’t want Davis to play big minutes at center, there’s no question he’ll be spending some time at the five. As Davis himself told Vogel, “If it comes down to it, Coach, and you need me to play the five, I’ll play the five.”
Considering LeBron James was willing to give Anthony Davis his number 23 jersey and defer to him as top scorer by becoming more of a facilitator, would he be willing to play small ball center so AD could stay at the four? Everybody knows LeBron is one of the unique players in the game who has the size, athleticism, and skillset to play all five positions. In many ways, LeBron James is probably the prototype for a modern small ball center.
The Lakers’ third option as a small ball center is Kyle Kuzma, who’s been playing the five in small ball lineups with Team USA this summer under Greg Popovich. While Luke Walton unsuccessfully experimented with Kuzma playing small ball center last season, Kyle’s defense has improved considerably and he could be a viable option, especially with Anthony Davis providing shot blocking help from the power forward position.
There may be some matchups like the Sixers Joel Embiid where the Lakers would likely start JaVale McGee at center but they should be able to go small with Davis, James, or Kuzma against most centers. That would enable us to continue to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with three-point shooters with the gravity to keep them from clogging the lane making it difficult for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to attack.
Losing Cousins will definitely cost the Lakers an important player and force them to play smaller than originally planned but the smart move would be to stay the course and hope Boogie can return in time for the playoffs.
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