With opening night just one day away for the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s still unclear what is to become of the starting power forward position. Julius Randle, the incumbent starter, is recovering from a back and rib injury, though he presumes he will play on Thursday.
Randle was benched for a few of the Lakers’ preseason games, giving Larry Nance, Jr. the opportunity to start alongside Brook Lopez in the frontcourt. In addition to the two returning power forwards, the Lakers drafted Kyle Kuzma in June and the rookie has impressed enough to force himself into the rotation.
At this point, Randle is the best player out of the three, but it seems like that’s not Luke Walton’s only criteria in deciding who will get the starting job. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the head coach is considering how Randle could play in bench units against lesser competition:
"They like Julius in any role he's in but they love the idea of him being able to dominate against second units."
— ESPNLosAngeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) October 18, 2017
It’s definitely an interesting thought. Kuzma is unlikely to start, according to Walton himself, but Nance could benefit from playing next to teammates, like Lopez and Lonzo Ball, who can make him better. Randle, meanwhile, can be a one-man wrecking crew off the bench with full power over the offense while still playing heavy minutes.
On the other hand, Randle would lose valuable time spent playing next to Lopez, a stretch-five who could open up the floor for him, and we have seen that giving him autonomy often leads to bad habits like tunnel vision. It’s also a strange bit of reasoning considering Walton could always stagger minutes so that Randle plays against starters and bench units alike.
Walton has a tough decision to make but it’s important to note that whoever starts the season opener is not guaranteed the spot for the rest of the year.