Kyle Kuzma and Luke Walton give their first impressions of the Lakers’ small-ball starters
Going into Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Lakers were in need of a change. No one knew exactly what that change needed to be, but something needed to be done after they dropped back-to-back games to bottom-10 teams.
Moments before tip-off, it was revealed that the change would be in the starting lineup. Instead of starting Brandon Ingram at point guard, the Lakers moved Rajon Rondo back in with the starters, along with Reggie Bullock and Brandon Ingram on the wings and Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James in the frontcourt. That’s right: James started at center for the Lakers on Wednesday.
James has spent some time at center this season, as was expected going into the season, but few expected him to start a game at center, especially when said game was against Julius Randle, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.
The early returns on the “Big Man ‘Bron” experiment? Mixed.
With James playing point center, the Lakers were able to do a lot of interesting things offensively. As a result, three different players finished with at least 20 points on above 50 percent shooting from the field. Rondo also benefitted from the open lanes James created by playing center, dishing out a game-high 16 assists.
Defensively, though, things were about as bad as you’d expect. In the 21 minutes they played together, the new-look starting lineup allowed 125.5 points per 100 possessions. Overall, they posted a net rating of -14.7, which was the worst net rating of any lineup that played more than three minutes together. That’s — ¿cómo se dice? — not great.
And yet, the Lakers left Staples Center with a huge one in the win column.
Following the game, Kuzma said he was encouraged from what he saw from the team’s new starting five.
“I thought it was pretty good. The biggest thing when we got small is we have to be able to rebound, but I think for the most part we’re a pretty good rebounding team when we want to be and if we can continue to do that it might be good for us,” Kuzma said.
Luke Walton also saw some things he liked from the first unit, but remained non-committal about whether or not he’d use it when the Lakers host the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.
“I think we just had a sense of urgency on the defensive end. Trying to stay connected and trying to follow the game plan and trying to rebound the basketball to start our offense,” Walton said.
“We’ll see if we stay with this group for next game. I haven’t gotten to Milwaukee yet and they have all sorts of matchup problems, but if that’s the group we have, then okay, we’re quicker and more athletic. We can be more aggressive on the ball and try to force turnovers, and look to get out and run,” Walton added. “We’ll watch the film on this, learn from it and then make a decision.”
The Bucks will be a change of pace for the new-look starting lineup, both figuratively and literally. On Wednesday, the Lakers saw Randle and Davis who, more often than not, like to pound it in the paint. On Friday, they’ll go up against the Bucks’ sharp-shooting big men like Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova.
If the Lakers can keep up on both ends of the floor with their small-ball starting lineup against Milwaukee, they might have finally found their key to sneaking into the playoffs. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.