Larry Nance Jr. returned from nursing his fractured hand Monday night against the LA Clippers, sliding right back into the starting power forward role. He played his staple hustle-hard brand of basketball, clocking 29 minutes and 40 seconds in his first game back.
Julius Randle played 24 minutes off the bench, but it was Kyle Kuzma who saw the most dramatic drop in his playing time. Kuz averaged a productive 35.6 minutes per game as the starting power forward in Larry’s absence, scoring 18.1 points and grabbing 7.5 boards while on the floor.
Kyle played just over 19 minutes against the Clippers, but still put numbers on the board in his decreased workload. He added in 15 off the bench, draining three of his five three-point attempts.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton has stuck with starting Nance Jr. since the season opener, but is it the right move now that we’re 20 games into the season? The Silver Screen and Roll staff decided to mull over what’s going on, so let’s dive into it!
Who would you start at power forward and why?
The funny thing about the old adage — a player should never lose their spot due to injury — is that it always "sounds" like the right (or, certainly, honorable) thing to do... until the replacement steps in and performs at a level that proves a reevaluation is necessary. This certainly isn't a knock against Larry, having (likely) the best season of his career.
Kuzma's immediate scoring capabilities and overall impact may have been an unexpected bonus from this year's draft, but now that you seem to have a guy that could be truly special (18 points, 7.5 rebounds, 53 percent from the floor, 38.8 percent from deep as a starter), you should act accordingly. Plus, beyond the numbers, Kuzma gives Lonzo Ball another much-needed offensive weapon to work with as the rookie point guard continues to struggle finding his own scoring opportunities.
Ultimately, it may be more important to see him playing extended minutes throughout and down the stretch of games, but why not continue building on the current chemistry (Kuzma’s at 22 points per contest over the last five starts) and start maintaining consistent rotations at the same time?
In one sense, there isn’t really a wrong answer here. In another, more real sense, the answer is Kuzma, and it’s because the starting lineup badly needs his scoring. Coaching staffs always seem to work themselves into knots trying to preserve lineup continuity, doing things like bringing non-rotation players into the starting lineup when injuries strike so as not to disturb the regular rotation and so on.
I get the feeling something similar is happening here. Nance, in theory, seems like an ideal fifth starter. The problem with that line of thinking is that it applies to a good team. The Lakers are improving, to be sure, they are even good in some areas, but making any kind of calculation around lineup combinations that isn’t heavily tilted toward simply playing their best guys is flawed at this point. I’m just happy we’re having this conversation about young, exciting players and not Carlos Boozer.
On top of all this is the increasingly obvious fact that Randle pretty clearly needs more minutes. You can debate the merits of Kuzma’s scoring vs. Randle’s defense, and how each impacts the starters or the bench, but the fact that both have been more productive than Nance seems a little less debatable. More small ball lineups with Randle or Nance at center will help find minutes for all three guys, but Kuzma should start.
I approached this question strictly in the thinking of getting the most value out of the three players in terms of both on the court, and off. I ran off different scenarios in my head and found myself continuously coming back to where I started: Nance Jr. should be the Lakers’ starting power forward strictly in title only. My thought process started with looking at Nance himself, whose role has been the one constant on this team since his arrival, and he does a solid job at it. That being said, there is also a clear limitation on what Nance can do. He is too small to play a chunk of his minutes at the backup center position alongside Kuzma, and does not properly add any spacing to the floor to play next to Randle. Whereas beside Brook Lopez in the starting group, Nance was able to play rather well working within his strengths — defense and rebounding — all while letting Lopez spread the floor for the team at the five.
Randle has been arguably the best Laker this season, and as disheartening it is to say, should not be starting. It could be argued the role he currently is in is directly correlative to his early success. As the backup center, Randle is able to steer a switch-everything defense, have the paint to himself to operate, and exert all his energy in his limited time. His stellar play is also important for a front office who may be looking to move Randle come the trade deadline, or familiarize him to a role he could be playing next season if they indeed land max-level caliber talent.
Then there is the wunderkind that is Kuzma. Kyle has stepped up to the plate with the starting promotion and has only legitimized himself further in this league with his play. He is also the one player of the three I feel could survive either starting, or coming off the bench. Kuzma could ideally come off the pine as the gunning scoring punch the team often needs, and a trio of Jordan Clarkson, Kuzma, and Randle would be quite the group to reckon with night in and night out for the opposing benches. In regards to the larger scope, I hope both Randle and Kuzma play more minutes per night than Nance, are more incorporated in crunch time situations, and are securely more a part of the long-term plans for the team.
For the current time being, Nance still makes sense as the starter when looking at the variables.
Julius Randle. From the moment the Lakers traded for Lopez, the prospect of Randle and Lopez sharing a frontcourt has been tantalizing. The outside shooting of Lopez combined with the bully-ball of Randle makes them a natural fit. Furthermore, Randle's skill as a playmaker and his desire to run the floor in transition makes him an excellent complement to Ball.
His defensive RPM of 0.89 also suggests that Randle is no longer a major defensive liability, and he has finally started to utilize his length and bouncy feet on a consistent basis on that end of the floor. It comes down to this — of the power forward options, Randle is the most talented, and it's not really that close. Neither Kyle Kuzma nor Larry Nance, Jr. is a sufficiently better fit in the starting lineup to overcome that talent deficiency.
Besides, if the Lakers ever want to trade Randle to recoup some value on that asset (let's not forget he was the only lottery pick of the bunch), showcasing him in the starting lineup would be a good idea.
This isn’t a tough one. I think the clear choice here Kuzma. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, the rookie has averaged 18.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in almost 36 minutes per game on a respectable .568 true shooting percentage. It’s really not even the numbers that stand out — it’s his natural fit alongside Lonzo Ball’s uptempo game and Brandon Ingram’s slashing prowess. Also, the biggest issue with the starters is their lack of reliable floor spacers. Kuzma has shown the ability to space the floor to help alleviate some of those concerns.
Furthermore, a trend that’s continuing to develop these last few games are the slow starts the team has been experiencing. The defense has been fine, but it’s the putrid offense that’s really contributed to those late starts. Replacing Kuzma with Nance Jr. would be a step in the wrong direction, and would only make things harder on Ingram and Ball to create scoring opportunities in the half-court.
The only other real contender here is Randle, who has been phenomenal as the team’s designated small-ball center. Randle would theoretically be a good fit with the starters with his ability to handle the ball and playmake. It would allow for Lonzo to be relieved of some of his ball-handling duties, but more importantly push him off-ball and allow him to operate on secondary reads, where he did a lot of his damage during his lone year at UCLA.
The modern-day NBA has evolved, and so has its offense. Kuzma should be the starting power forward for the Lakers simply because he has the fluidity and budding skills to fit the mold of a lethal NBA scorer. In the NBA today, analytics suggests teams that space with three-point threats and quickly swing the ball force defenses into rotations that will free up a cutter to the hoop or a catch-and-shoot opportunity on the perimeter. Teams also want efficiency at scoring the basketball, but efficiency relies on good strategy and execution. Execution requires skill and talent. Kuzma has both. Simply said, you need talent to win in this league.
The polished 22-year-old has been a welcome relief for Laker fans this season, and it has made the D’Angelo Russell trade somewhat acceptable. Kuzma has demonstrated his excellent ability to run in transition, and has the athleticism to finish around the rim. In just his rookie season, Kuzma gives the Lakers a dynamic look with his ability to slash, pick-and-pop, and capability to create mismatches. He can create his own shot off the dribble, including a full array of post moves that has enabled him to shoot an effective 50 percent from the field this season. Through 20 games, the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft has emerged as the Lakers scoring leader with 16.7 points per game. The skill to shoot floaters and jump hooks while being able to utilize the spin move from his size is rare. Kuzma is a 38 percent shooter from behind the arc, and the Lakers could really use his outside shooting as they are dead last in both three-point shooting percent and three-point field goals made in the NBA. In order to be successful in the NBA today, teams have to be able to hit the three-ball.
The other candidates just don’t offer the same upside of what Kuzma can potentially become, as Nance Jr. and Randle are both suspect shooters who are better suited coming off the bench for their energy.
My position on this subject has been the same since the start of the season: Julius Randle should be the starting power forward for the Lakers.
Yes, Kuzma absolutely deserves recognition for the impressive numbers he put up in Nance Jr.’s absence, but his offensive bag of tricks makes him him the prefect spark plug off the bench for the Lakers alongside Clarkson.
Assuming the debate is between Nance and Randle at this point, it’s a no-brainer for me. Randle is the better fit next to Lopez because of his defensive versatility and playmaking ability. Plus, if the Lakers are looking to deal him before the trade deadline, that might as well maximize his value until then.
The person the Lakers should start at power forward is Randle. Julius has been the better overall player between Kuzma, Nance Jr and himself. He has enough impact on offense for the starters to not miss Kuzma, and has the defensive prowess to match Nance Jr’s.
Also, Randle has shown that he an ability to create for others, which could alleviate pressure from Lonzo’s playmaking burden.
The decision to roll with Larry as the starter was a strange one to me, and while Coach Luke has preached that he doesn’t feel it’s right for a player to lose his place in the rotation due to injury, it remains unclear to me how Randle wound up with the demotion to begin with.
I think starting Randle is the right move. The argument that Julius is doing well in focused stretches, and as a flexible frontcourt player that can fill minutes at the four or five, is a fair one. I just don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.
Randle can start, and play small-ball center, and play designated minute-bursts. I think it’s clear that Kuzma deserves a heaping spoonful of minutes as well. That leaves Nance Jr. as the one taking the hit in the rotation. It’s a bit funny — one of the things that made drafting Kuzma strange (at the time) was the question of where he’d fit in the rotation with two young bigs in front of him.
If the Lakers are trying to play their best players, then the question to me now is where Nance fits in the equation. The fact that Randle is a (restricted) free agent next season does throw a wrench in things, though.
Who would you start at power forward? Vote below!
Who should the Lakers’ starting power forward be?
This poll is closed
Larry Nance Jr.