One thing has become increasingly clear as the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen short of expectations since they returned from the All-Star break: It isn’t the kids who have struggled to keep up with the increased intensity of a playoff race. It’s why so many balked at LeBron James initially seeming to call out the team’s youth.
During Wednesday’s shootaround, James made sure to point out a couple guys who have legitimately risen to the occasion: Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
“I think, obviously, both of them are improving their game, especially offensively. B.I. is in a crazy shooting zone right now, with his efficiency more than anything. Kuz as well, he’s been very efficient with every shot attempt he makes. It’s been very good to see them and their growth throughout this process,” James said.
Over the last three games, the team leaders in terms of net rating have been the newly-acquired Reggie Bullock (5.9 points per 100 possessions), Kuzma (4.7) and Ingram (3.5). Compare that to the team’s vets and it paints a pretty clear story with who isn’t carrying their weight.
When Rajon Rondo has been on the court, the Lakers are being outscored by a whopping 21.7 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the bench, the Lakers have outscored the opposition by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s an insane -31.8-point swing. He’s been unplayable.
By that same math, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn’t been much better. When he’s played, the Lakers have been outscored by 16.2 points per 100 possessions. While he’s been on the bench, the Lakers have outscored teams by 4.7 points per 100 possessions. A -20.9-point swing from the team’s second-highest-paid player is brutal.
Random note: Tyson Chandler has hardly played due to injury, but he’s currently carrying with him an insane net rating of -40. Negative forty! I’m not even mad; I’m impressed.
Lonzo Ball is reportedly going to be re-evaluated Thursday by the team’s medical staff. Him returning to the lineup would minimize Rondo’s negative impact on the team. Meanwhile, Bullock playing the way he has allows Luke Walton to stay away from KCP as much as he possibly can, though Josh Hart needs to pick up his play in order to let the team not have to rely on Caldwell-Pope at all.
Now look, this is small sample size theater. A good game from anyone listed among the team’s worst players over the last three games can have a real impact on those numbers. The opposite is true of Ingram and Kuzma. Those who have stepped up need to continue that trend and those who’ve fallen on their face need to stand back up.
James was absolutely right to praise Ingram and Kuzma, by the way. This data isn’t difficult to come back and it really has jumped off the screen that both these young players have more than held their own. If he doesn’t praise them for that, they could very easily feel lumped in with those who, according to James, might have to consider a different team to play for.
If James leaves these things unsaid, he’d risk as the team’s leader to let them grow destitute and their production might slip.
Whoever it might be, guys have to step up and Walton needs to find a productive rotation from all this and stick with it until Ball comes back. With just 22 games left, time is running out to really get some kind of run going. At the very least, though, it’s great to see a couple pieces of the young core are ready and willing to rise to the occasion.