The Los Angeles Lakers appear to have their starting lineup figured out, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope expected to replace Avery Bradley, the latter of whom opted out of the season for personal reasons
The second unit is where things start to get complicated, and that was true even before Rajon Rondo suffered an injury at practice on Sunday. But there’s no denying that the absence of Rondo will drastically change the way the bench unit looks — at least for the next six weeks — because he’s averaged 20.5 minutes per game and posted the fourth-highest usage percentage (18.4%) on the team this season. It’s also going to change the way the bench plays because there really isn’t another guard on the team that can handle the ball and make plays the way Rondo could.
That doesn’t mean the second unit’s production is going to plummet, though. In fact, during a recent interview with Anthony Slater of The Athletic, Alex Caruso talked about his expectations for the new-look second unit, and the ways they can succeed:
How’s that new second unit? Sounds like KCP will slide into Bradley’s starting role; you mentioned the two new pieces. How have J.R. and Dion looked? And how do you see that new second unit reforming?
You know, I think it’s going to be a lot of the same. I don’t have the same natural ability that Rondo does to be able to throw some crazy passes and have his IQ for the game. But I think me being able to run the show and get guys shots might open up opportunities for (Kyle) Kuzma to handle a little more, be the ballhandler in pick-and-roll with Dwight. That’s been successful for us this year.
Then when you put shooting around them like Dion or J.R., it opens up the floor. So it’s exciting for me to be able to play with them. If I’m out there with a lineup that has J.R., Dion, Kuz and Dwight or even throw Markieff (Morris) in there with somebody, it’s a lot of shooting with a lob threat at the rim. That’s a point guard’s dream.
While it’s unclear if any of this is based on the units Caruso’s played with during practice, we at least know that Kyle Kuzma will be coming off of the bench, and for the first time in a while, he won’t have to share the floor with a ball-dominant guard in Rondo. If Kuzma inherits some of those touches from Rondo — the latter of whom averages the third-most touches per game on the team (50.4) — he might have the opportunity to create his own offense.
Kuzma has said he’s up for that challenge if the coaching staff gives it to him, and it’s something he had a lot of success doing in his first two seasons with the Lakers (and when he’s had the chance to this season).
That being said, Caruso may have inadvertently discounted how much Dion Waiters will handle the ball in that second unit. Waiters is obviously still a giant question mark, but over the course of his career, he’s shown that he can handle the ball — arguably to a fault.
And whether it’s with Kuzma or Waiters, the Lakers will almost certainly see the benefits of pairing Dwight Howard with a ball-handler that can creating scoring opportunities for himself out of the pick-n-roll. Rondo is a lot of things, but he’s not a scorer.
We’ll get our first look at the new-look bench unit when the Lakers face the San Antonio Spurs in a scrimmage game on Thursday, July 23. All scrimmage games will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.