Everyone has their own opinion on Lonzo Ball, but the Los Angeles Lakers may have a three-headed monster brewing with two other promising youngsters on the wing.
In today’s NBA, it’s all about taking advantage of matchups and having lineup versatility. The Lakers are finally trending upward in their rebuild under the direction of Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka, and that’s shown in Summer League play. With Ball leading the offense, the Lake Show has had crisp ball movement, which has resulted in easy buckets.
One of the immediate benefactors has been rookie Kyle Kuzma. The lanky 6-9 forward has been one of the biggest surprises in Summer League. I’m not sure if he even saw that stat line coming at this point, which isn’t bad for the 27th overall pick. Kuzma was essentially a wild card in a deep draft, but he has shown he can contribute in a variety of ways for the Lakers’ young roster.
For starters, he has shown much deeper range than he did in his three years at Utah. Not to read too much into numbers against Summer League defense, but Kuzma has connected on 39.4 percent of his triples, which has amounted to a big chunk of his 20.5 points per outing in six contests in Vegas. He has excelled in spot-up situations, particularly off penetration kicks from Ball. Being 6-9, it’s difficult for defenders to challenge on the perimeter, and that combination of size and range is invaluable for NBA wings to score efficiently.
Kuzma is so intriguing going forward because he has solid moves in the post and his ball fakes will be yet another weapon for him. He has had defenders guessing from his newfound range, and Kuzma’s followed that up with one-dribble pull-ups and silky smooth flushes when the defense has given him those looks. His myriad of offensive moves has enabled the 21-year-old to be the Lakers leading scorer among players who have played more than one game.
Harrison Faigen also touched on how important the connection has been between Ball and Kuzma in the open floor. Many times throughout summer league competition, the floor general has hit Kuzma in stride with beautiful passes, and that’s resulted in easy layups and dunks behind the defense.
Those kinds of plays ignite a team and a fan base, and it’s encouraging for head coach Luke Walton to have big men who can run the floor and finish at a high clip. Two-man action between Ball and Kuzma could build into something special moving forward, and that’s helped free up role players like Alex Caruso for cuts and open jumpers.
The pick-and-roll capability between Ball and Kuzma could create more space for Ingram to operate along the baseline and also on the perimeter. Ingram struggled last season for long stretches, and some of that was due to lack of spacing and lack of a pure point guard to occupy the defense. Lonzo fits that mold, and with Kuzma rolling hard off screens, that collapses defenses.
That’s where the scoring versatility and improved strength of Ingram could result in more options for the Lakers in halfcourt sets. Lastly, with these three complementing each other from penetration and floor spacing, open shots in the corner for newly-acquired three-and-D contributor Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should come to fruition. KCP — and at times bench scorer Jordan Clarkson — can knock down open triples, and in turn, the Lakers could be effective at clearing room for offensive rebounding opportunities for players like Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
Taking this Summer League into consideration, the multiple offensive sets designed to make use of the size and skill of the Ball-Kuzma-Ingram trio makes this Lakers offense one to keep an eye on over the next few years. It’s not close to “Showtime” yet, but the Lakers have planted a good amount of the seeds. That’s a start.
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