Between Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma Josh Hart and maybe even Thomas Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers have drafted one of the most promising rookie classes in the league. However, none of those players, nor the one player taken over Ball, Markelle Fultz, are as close to winning Rookie of the Year as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
The Lakers have some experience with shooting guards taken with the No. 13 pick in the draft exceeding expectations, but Mitchell has taken the league by storm in a way Kobe Bryant was never given the chance to while buried on the bench as a rookie.
Mitchell has led all rookies in scoring with 20.3 points per game, and done so on a relatively efficient 43.7 percent shooting. He also ranks sixth among first-year players in assists (3.6), and most importantly, his freestyling has helped the Jazz stay in playoff contention despite the absence of Gordon Hayward.
The Lakers’ promising rookie class hasn’t been able to tick that final box, but Kuzma and Ball have still been able to climb the ranks of their class and finish with similarly impressive individual stats.
Kuzma ranks second among rookies in scoring with 16 points per game, while Ball has the second-most assists per game of any rookie with 6.9.
But while a showdown between rookie guards would be a promising way to sell this matchup, Ball isn’t suiting up for the Lakers’ final non-Los Angeles road game of the season because of a knee contusion that’s now kept him out for three games. Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram is still going through the league’s concussion protocol and also won’t play.
With those two unavailable, in the wake of Isaiah Thomas being done for the season as well, injuries have left the Lakers without its three best playmakers, which could lead to a slog of a game to watch offensively if L.A.’s effort against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday was any indication.
The Jazz also won’t make things as easy offensively as the Kings’ 29th ranked defense did. The Jazz are allowing just 101.9 points per 100 possessions, the third-best defensive rating in the league over the course of the season behind Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert.
Los Angeles has been better than advertised on that end, but if they can’t slow Mitchell and don’t have the offensive teeth to puncture Utah’s defense, they might be in trouble given that the Jazz have a lot left to play for with playoff seeding on the line heading down the home stretch of the season.
Head coach Luke Walton has spoken about why his team needs to stay engaged in their last few games despite injuries and the Lakers’ dashed hopes for playoff contention, but the team has lost seven of their last nine games.
Until they show they’re willing to come out and surprise better teams again, it’s hard to give them much of a chance on the road against a superior squad with something on the line.
Los Angeles Lakers (33-43) Vs Utah Jazz (44-33):
6:00 P.M. PST, April 3, 2018
Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Alex Caruso
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac
Projected Jazz Starting Lineup:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
Key Reserves: Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, Jonas Jerebko, Royce O’Neale
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