The Los Angeles Lakers’ starting lineup is mostly set. Barring any injuries, Brook Lopez will be the starting center, Brandon Ingram will be the starting small forward, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lonzo Ball will be the starting backcourt.
That leaves the starting power forward, which is presumably Julius Randle’s spot to lose. However, rookie Kyle Kuzma has a strong case to get that position ahead of his more established teammate. Here are the reasons why.
He’s earned it
Kuzma has looked good whenever he’s stepped onto the floor for a live game wearing a Lakers jersey. It started in Summer League where Kuzma was the Lakers’ second-best player behind Ball. He hit an impressive 3.4 three-pointers per game at a sizzling 48 percent clip in Las Vegas. When he wasn’t knocking down threes, he was running the floor and finishing one of Ball’s many outlet passes for fast-break scores.
The 27th overall pick in this year’s draft was incredibly productive on both ends of the floor, as he averaged 21.9 points, with 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. He capped off his strong Summer League campaign with an eye-opening 30-point, 10-rebound game with six three-pointers to lead the Lakers to the Summer League championship against the Portland Trail Blazers. That outstanding performance earned Kuzma the Finals MVP award.
It’s been a few months since Summer League, but Kuzma still hasn’t cooled off. The rookie has been the Los Angeles' most consistent performer through two preseason games. He’s averaging 21 points and 2.5 threes while shooting an impressive 62 percent from the field.
Of course, Summer League and preseason performances should be taken with a grain of salt. But even if Kuzma isn’t quite that 20-point scorer, he still makes more sense in the Lakers’ starting lineup than Randle.
Through three years in the league, Randle just hasn’t shown the improvement defensively that the Lakers would’ve liked. He still gets lost as a help defender and is too small to be a capable rim protector. He’s essentially a liability on that end of the floor.
Nearly all the value Randle brings to the table comes from his offense. His playmaking for a big man has grown by leaps and bounds, so much so he’s drawn comparisons with Draymond Green. However, he’s not nearly the three-point shooter Green is, so he isn’t much of an asset when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. And with Ball and Ingram likely to have the ball most of the time for the Lakers in those starting lineups, he’s probably not going to have the ball as often. He’s more likely to have the ball anchoring the second unit.
Kuzma has more upside
A big reason the 22-year-old is a better fit in the Lakers’ starting five is because of his upside as a defender. Although he’s likely to make mistakes as a rookie, he’s still got good length that will make up for some of those mistakes, and more mobility to defend better along the perimeter in switches than Randle.
Unlike Randle, the former Utah Ute has also shown in Summer League and early in preseason that he can consistently knock down three-pointers. He can remain effective without the ball by spacing the floor and hitting shots when the ball comes to him. Kuzma can play small forward, but his best position is power forward, where his speed and athleticism give him an advantage over larger fours.
To give him more minutes at the position, the 2014 first round draft pick will need to step aside. Kuzma is also forming a chemistry with his fellow rookie (and the Lakers' new potential franchise player), Ball. That budding connection looked good during Summer League when Kuzma was the beneficiary of many of Ball’s outlet pass assists. If the Lakers want to cultivate that connection further, they must align their minutes more, which means putting Kuzma in the starting five.
The case against
The potential downside of sending Randle to the bench would be the impact on his morale. The 22-year-old already has some questionable effort levels to begin with, and he may not take getting demoted in favor of a rookie well. A demoralized Randle also won’t be good for the Lakers, especially if they plan to shop him during the season.
Additionally, LA shouldn't be in any rush to put more pressure on their young rookie. Despite his impressive performances in Summer League and preseason, they can afford to take it slow with Kuzma and allow him to adjust to the league from a bench role.
Regardless of whether he starts or not, though, Kuzma should still have a significant role to play in the Lakers’ rotation this season thanks to his fine play and everything he brings to the table. He could still play big minutes and be part of the Lakers’ finishing lineups in crunch time.
And even if he doesn’t start right away, Kuzma may not have to wait too long to become a starter, especially if he continues to play as well as he has to start his Lakers career.
How do you see Kyle Kuzma fitting in with the Lakers in 2017/18? Comment below!
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?