Struggling to win games in the absence of Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel started to tinker with his lineups to find a boost in offensive production.
When Davis went down, Vogel immediately inserted Kyle Kuzma into the power forward slot. While Kuzma’s output was fruitful, the bench scoring deteriorated. Wesley Matthews got the nod to start in Schroder’s spot.
After three games of Kuzma and Matthews starting, Vogel switched things up by starting Markieff Morris and Talen Horton-Tucker against the Utah Jazz.
In that game, Morris turned in arguably his best game of the season, scoring 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds in 27 minutes. Despite Utah’s blowout of the Lakers, Morris has remained in the starting lineup against the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors, and he has excelled in his role.
Morris topped his performance against Utah with a 13-point, 8-rebound, 4-assist game against Golden State, going 4-for-8 from the floor and 2-for-4 from deep. Vogel explained his decision to start Morris resided in the want to expand the rotation and spread the workload.
“A couple games ago when we first did it, we wanted to introduce a 10th man into the rotation,” Vogel said. “That night it was Jared Dudley. To get Jared Dudley in there, we didn’t like playing him and ‘Kieff together, so it was as simple as putting ‘Kieff in the starting lineup so we could introduce a 10th man into the rotation and lighten the load on some of the guys that have played heavy minutes.”
Vogel added he’s confident in Morris’ skillset, and this recent slate of games has provided Vogel an opportunity to observe how different starting lineups function together.
“I like what ‘Kieff brings to the table,” Vogel said. “When Anthony went down, our first look was to play with Kuz in there and ‘Bron sort of defending the 4-man. We didn’t get off to a good start, we lost three in a row, and four out of five, so wanted to look at this stretch of games to see ‘Kieff in the starting lineup.”
This hasn’t been Keef’s most effective season, as he’s averaging career-low numbers in points (4.9), rebounds (3.7), assists (1.0), field-goal percentage (38.8%) and 3-point percentage (29.9%). Of course, his role on the Lakers is truncated in contrast to his previous years, but if Morris can maintain a similar level of play from the last three games, it might be enough for when Davis returns sometime after the All-Star break.
Morris believes Lakers needed adversity to find identity
During Los Angeles’ four-game skid, the unit faced a precarious situation they hadn’t dealt with in quite some time. Shots stopped falling, LeBron James carried an arduous workload and the role players failed to augment their production.
However, Morris said the Lakers needed a tough stretch to carve out an identity for themselves since the team differed in personnel in contrast to last season.
“This is almost a completely different team from last year,” Morris said. “Obviously if it was the same team then guys would know what to do when certain guys are out. But we had one week of training camp, a couple preseason games and we were right to it.
“This is new for all of us, but we need it. If you ask me, we need it because you never know with injuries. In the playoffs, you never know. We need these challenging times to really find who we really are.”
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