The Lakers have sadly made Charles Barkley happy, dropping game one to the Trail Blazers as a possible first round upset is now in the mind of many on NBA Twitter. Although we may be overreacting to the game a little, the Lakers still lost because of problems that have plagued them since the beginning of this season restart. One of the main problems being discussed is the team’s starting lineup, specifically the players not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis. Those other three (JaVale McGee, Danny Green, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) have played poorly in the bubble and were atrocious in game one. Green and KCP heavily contributed to the Lakers’ shooting woes, only making two of their 13 combined three-point attempts.
Even if Frank Vogel doesn’t change the starting lineup, he could still increase some players’ minutes in spite of not making a change on paper. With that being said, here are some players that could help the Lakers improve their offense without sacrificing too much on the defensive end.
He only played in eight games for the Lakers before the season was suspended in March, but Markieff Morris will definitely continue to be involved in rotations no matter how he is really playing. That is because of his ability to play the four next to Anthony Davis at the five. It continues to be said over-and-over, but the Lakers are just more potent on the offensive end when Davis is playing at that position.
Morris played 18 minutes on Tuesday, ending the game tied for the Lakers’ best plus/minus total of the game at +12 (tied with Alex Caruso). The best lineup of the night actually didn’t even have Davis at the five next to Morris. Instead, it was Dwight Howard at the five, Morris at the four, with Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, and Alex Caruso rounding out the rest of the crew. They started off the quarter (per PopcornMachine.net) and helped kick-off a 13-0 run that led to the Lakers getting back in it with 31 points in the 2nd quarter compared to the Trail Blazers’ 21. Morris only attempted two baskets in the game but made both including a very aggressive drive directly to the rim that resulted in an and-one.
Look for Morris to probably get more minutes, as he can also spread the floor. He ended the seeding games by making six-of-nine from deep in the Lakers’ final two games.
I’m sure you’re probably thinking that Kyle Kuzma already gets enough minutes, but I’m here to argue that we need MORE Kuz.
Some may have laughed when he was being touted as the “third guy” on this team behind LeBron and Davis, but Kuzma has been exactly that ever since they arrived to the bubble. He had a poor shooting night last night (it was contagious), but no one on the Lakers has been as consistent as he has in these Orlando gyms than him. Despite only making one of his five attempts on Tuesday, Kuzma is still 17-for-41 on three-pointers in the bubble (41.4%). To top that off, Kuz is apparently Bruce Bowen now on the defensive end.
Okay. Maybe that’s a little excessive. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he has looked as good at defending on the wing as he arguably has his entire young career. He played 30 minutes last night while 36-year-old Carmelo Anthony played 37 minutes. It might be time to give Kuzma some “third guy” type of minutes, or maybe even a spot on the starting lineup.
The Lakers only scored 93 points on Tuesday night against the 27th ranked defensive team in the NBA. The performance was so bad that it would have been the fifth-lowest scoring game of the regular season for the team (two of the four games in “front” of game one are also from the bubble).
Is that Bubble Cheese’s music I hear?
Maybe the answer is just simply, “Put in the guy that you think is most likely to get three random buckets in a row.” That’s Dion Waiters to me above anyone else. He can find some opportunities in bench units to get switched onto someone like Mario Hezonja, immediately making a quick move to the basket. He’s shown some ability to finish those plays against taller players and has a decent career mark from three even if a couple of terrible 0-for-4 games made his bubble percentage look bad. Just as long as Vogel figures out how to never have him guarding Damian Lillard, I think the Lakers should give him more than a couple of plays like they did on Tuesday.
I was happy enough with the Lakers’ defense that I’d be more than willing to sacrifice a little for some offense. That means Green, KCP, or even our golden boy Caruso may have to give up some minutes to get Waiters on the court. Their offensive games were just too bad in game one for them to not have a short leash in this next one.
We will see how Vogel and the staff choose to adjust tonight at 6:00 p.m. PST. Let’s all hope for plenty of KCP and Danny Green threes.
All stats from NBA.com or Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted