Los Angeles Lakers: Three trends to focus on during preseason

Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

Kyle Kuzma

Kyle Kuzma could legitimately fall out of the Los Angeles Lakers rotation.

We can’t say for sure how Frank Vogel is going to deploy newly acquired Montrezl Harrell. Last season Doc Rivers, the Clippers head coach, used Harrell solely as a small-ball 5. However, using the 6’7″ Harrell at the center position goes against everything Vogel stands for on defense.

The pillar of Frank Vogel’s excellent Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers defenses was always to have a shot-blocking threat in the lane to deter drives to the rack.

It seems likely as the season progresses and the Lakers look to solidify their rotation heading into the playoffs, Vogel could stagger Mark Gasol’s and Anthony Davis’s minutes throughout every contest, thus ensuring the Purple and Gold have an actual shot-blocking center on the court at all times.

If Vogel goes with Montrezl Harrell at the power forward position, the Lakers rotation should look like this:

Starting Unit:

  • PG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope/Dennis Schroder
  • SG: Wesley Matthews/Alex Caruso
  • SF: LeBron James
  • PF: Anthony Davis
  • C: Marc Gasol

Reserve Unit:

  • PG: Dennis Schroder/Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • SG: Alex Caruso/Wesley Matthews
  • SF: Kyle Kuzma/ Markieff Morris/Talen Horton-Tucker
  • PF: Montrezl Harrell
  • C: Anthony Davis/Marc Gasol

It’s too early to know who will start at point guard or shooting guard, but that’s beside the point. KCP, Schroder, Matthews, and Caruso will all be a significant part of the Lakers rotation.

If Vogel asks Harrell to play power forward on the reserve unit, the only position with real uncertainty will be the backup small forward spot.

You might think that Kyle Kuzma has already solidified his place in the Lakers rotation. After all, he was a staple last season during the Lakers’ title run.

His situation is murkier than most people believe. He’s heading into the preseason with three strikes against him.

Strike 1: Kyle Kuzma’s still on his rookie-scale contract. According to the most recent reports, Rob Pelinka and Kuz’s agent are nowhere near a new deal. Lakers management hasn’t exactly given Kuzma their vote of confidence.

Strike 2: We are only a few days into training camp, and Frank Vogel is already singing Talen Horton-Tucker’s praises.

"“He continues to impress,” Vogel said. “The young man has a great attitude and great spirit. He comes to work every day with humility, and he just goes out there and kicks people’s butts, quite frankly. He’s a heck of a talent. He’s had a great two days here.” “I’m coaching him harder than the rest of the players on the team,” Vogel said. “I think he’s got a chance to be really good for us immediately, not down the road. I couldn’t be happier with the start that he’s off to.”"

Talen Horton-Tucker fits squarely in the middle of Frank Vogel’s ethos as a coach. He plays excellent defense and goes as hard as possible during practices.

Strike 3: Markieff Morris was a stud during the Lakers’ 2020 playoff run. He shot 42 percent from distance, off over three attempts per game while playing reliable defense. Markieff’s shooting ability beyond the arc opened things up for LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, and Anthony Davis.

When the bulk of the Lakers starters rest, Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell will run pick and roll action, and Anthony Davis will work out of isolation. Kyle Kuzma’s skill set (poor long-distance shooting, but a decent slasher) won’t help create space for the Lakers’ genuine offensive weapons to work within.

Kyle Kuzma made strides on defense last season, but he’s nowhere near Horton-Tucker’s level, and Markieff Morris can also hold his own on the perimeter and down on the block.

Talen Horton Tucker’s 6’4″ with a massive 7-foot-1.25 wingspan. Horton-Tucker showed last season during the playoffs that he has no fear of the moment and that his combination of size and length gives him the potential to be a real lockdown defender.

On offense, Horton-Tucker shot 31 percent from deep throughout 38 G-League contests, a percentage that was almost identical to Kuzma’s 31 three-point percentage last season.

Talen Horton-Tucker is going to get significant playing time throughout the preseason. If his three-point shot starts to fall with more regularity, he could very well find himself picking up Kyle Kuzma’s regular-season minutes.

Markieff Morris is a genuine floor-spreading wing. He shot close to 40 percent from deep in 2020, and he averaged less than half a turnover per game with the Lakers. You know what you’re going to get with Markieff, a reliable shooter who doesn’t do more than he’s capable of.

Frank Vogel’s now one of the few head coaches’ in the NBA with a ring on his finger. He’s no longer beholden to anyone besides LeBron James and Anthony Davis. As long as he keeps winning, he doesn’t have to worry about Kyle Kuzma’s ego or rhythm.

LeBron James won’t play much during the preseason. Keep an eye on which player starts in his place with the first unit.

If Frank Vogel has Kuzma start for LeBron, that’s a bad sign for the 25-year-old. That means that Vogel isn’t interested in helping Kuz build chemistry with Shroder and Harrell, and he could lose his grip on the rotation for upstart Talen Horton-Tucker or the veteran, Markieff Morris.