The Los Angeles Lakers filled a big need this offseason by signing shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, formerly of the Detroit Pistons, to a one-year, $18 million contract.
Caldwell-Pope is the unquestioned starting shooting guard on the team, and the best perimeter defender, which will help out rookie point guard Lonzo Ball on a nightly basis as he can lock up the opposing team’s best guard.
Unfortunately though, the Lakers will be without Caldwell-Pope for the first two games of the season as he will be serving a suspension for a previous DUI. As such, Lakers head coach Luke Walton will need to find a replacement in his starting lineup.
After practice on Monday, Walton named five possible replacements in Josh Hart, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng. Hart suffered an Achilles injury though that could keep him out some time.
With just two days until opening night, Walton is running out of time to decide who he wants to start, and our staff debates who he should go with in the latest Lakers Nation Roundtable:
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH):
In my opinion, the best option for the team as a whole is Corey Brewer.
Walton has consistently spoken about the starting lineup not just being the best players, but who fits in the best. He believes having a strong bench unit is important as well. Throwing Brewer in with the starters does the best job of replicating what KCP brings to the table, while also keeping a strong reserve unit.
KCP’s role is to defend the other team’s best offensive threat, hit open shots, and be a good slashing option off the ball. While Brewer isn’t a great shooter, he is a solid defender who brings a lot of energy to the floor and knows how to be effective cutting and slashing. He is also at his best in transition which makes him an ideal fit next to Lonzo Ball.
Also, putting him with the starters allows the Lakers to keep Clarkson and Kuzma coming off the bench which will give them an excellent scoring punch. All in all, Brewer presents the best option for Walton to keep his rotations relatively normal in KCP’s absence while adding a great pairing for Ball and Brandon Ingram in the starting lineup.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane):
The Lakers are in an interesting spot in regards to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s suspension. Of the five reported options (which is more accurately four due to Josh Hart’s injury), I personally believe that the player who should get the nod is Kyle Kuzma, who has been electric so far.
Beyond that, Kuzma is also the best fit of the bunch alongside Lonzo Ball thanks to his versatility, shooting, and the aggressive way that he runs the floor. It’s asking a lot of Kuzma to start, especially at small forward (Brandon Ingram would slide down to shooting guard), but this season’s Lakers’ season should be about proving that they have something in their young players.
That said, I don’t think Luke Walton is going to start Kuzma. Based on the recent 5-on-5 practice video posted to the Lakers Nation YouTube channel, it looks as though Luol Deng will be the one to get the nod. Luke Walton likes keeping his rotations as intact as possible, and with Randle already hurting, he likely wants to at least keep the bench core of Tyler Ennis, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer, Kyle Kuzma, and Ivica Zubac together.
If this is the route that Walton goes, hopefully Deng is ready to show that last season was an aberration and that he still has something left in the tank.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand):
I would have to give the nod to the rookie Kuzma in this spot, just because of how good he looked in the preseason. There were a lot of questions surrounding him going into training camp in regards to if he could replicate his Summer League performance, and he absolutely lived up to expectations.
Additionally, Kuzma has developed tremendous chemistry with Lonzo Ball so I would like to see those two on the court together. As we saw in the summer, Kuzma knows that if he runs the floor that Ball will find him for easy buckets. Also with Ball, it is best to surround him with guys that can shoot the three ball, and Kuzma has proven to be one of the most reliable shooters on the team.
Just to put the icing on the cake, starting Kuzma gives the Lakers tremendous size on the defensive end of the floor with him, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. That gives them the ability to switch on every screen as they all can guard bigger power forwards.
Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen):
The Lakers should start Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart (if he’s healthy), Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez.
Randle’s injury removes any chance he had of swiping the starting spot, and Nance’s stronger end to preseason play still doesn’t seem to justify starting him over Kuzma. If the bench misses the latter’s shooting, Walton can always stagger minutes more rather than using five-man, hockey-style substitution patterns.
As for Hart, it seems like a better fit to have his shooting out there than Clarkson’s ball-stopping tendencies while starting him would also vibe with Walton’s pattern of keeping bench players on the bench and instead unearthing buried role players in order to preserve his rotation patterns as much as possible.
That lineup would have three pretty good floor spacers (Lopez, Kuzma and Hart) as well as three creators (Ball, Ingram and Lopez), offering about as much balance as can reasonably be expected following injuries and suspensions on a talent-deprived team.
Matt Borelli (@MattDodgerBlue):
With Caldwell-Pope out for the first two games, I think Luol Deng should start in place of him.
Deng’s presence in the starting lineup allows Luke Walton to keep his bench rotation in tact and ensures that the second unit will still have its two best scorers in Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma.
Clarkson and Kuzma figure to still get more playing time than Deng and will provide a spark off the bench with their offense.
Deng in the starting lineup additionally means that Brandon Ingram will presumably move to the 2 for the time being, giving the Lakers a noticeable height advantage right out of the gate with Lonzo Ball, Larry Nance Jr. and Brook Lopez also on the floor.