Preseason is behind us. We’ve counted the stats and learned a few things in the process. But, come Thursday, the real games start. The question is, what will be the Lakers starting lineup? We still don’t know.
The question of who will start at power forward is still unknown. We have our opinions, but Luke Walton is still mum on who it will be. If I were a betting man, I’d lean towards Larry Nance who has been getting run with the first five and because Julius Randle still isn’t practicing fully (he did not scrimmage in Tuesday’s session).
The other question, though, has nothing to do with injury or a positional battle, but with a suspension. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will miss the first two games of the regular season after pleading guilty to DUI charges while still a member of the Detroit Pistons. KCP’s suspension opens the door for another Lakers wing to join the starting group. Only, we don’t know who it will be.
And neither does Walton. Or at least he’s not saying even if he does.
I think we can rule out Hart. He sat out Monday’s practice with a “strained” achilles tendon and an MRI has since revealed he has bursitis in the tendon. He sat out Tuesday’s practice as well and will continue to be evaluated.
Walton has said it’s not about simply throwing the best player into the starting group, but rather he wants to maintain balance with the units to ensure the reserves have a formidable enough unit to compete. With that, I’d guess that Clarkson and Kuzma both remain subs. I can make an argument for both starting, but honestly I’d be fine with both maintaining their reserve status.
Clarkson, I think would be fine starting. He could get more minutes with Lonzo (which I want to see) and, I think, playing with that unit would better encourage him to tap into more of a passing/ball mover mindset than he currently possesses. Walton wants to see less “pounding of the dribble” from all players and, frankly, Clarkson is the worst culprit. Getting him on a unit with Lonzo, Ingram, and Lopez should, in theory, help him become more of an off-ball worker and someone who does more work in space going downhill where he thrives.
As for Kuzma, do we really need to spell this out? First, he’s a legit scoring option who does most everything at a high enough level offensively to be a net positive. Second, he’s proven capable as a defender in space both on his own man and when switching. Lastly, his shooting will be needed in any lineup he’s in, but could really be used with the starters to create space for Lonzo and Ingram.
Still, though, I doubt either Kuz or Clarkson makes the cut. Which leaves us with Deng and Brewer. The writing on the wall says one is more likely than others.
Deng has been one of the more forgotten players this preseason, but when he played he looked fine. Now, most of those minutes where he looked fine were at PF. If he starts for KCP, he’ll be a wing where history tells us he will not perform as well. That said, Deng is smart and will play within his role. He will not force the action or gamble defensively. He’ll be where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be. Whether he can stay in front of his man is a different question (and the answer likely won’t be in the affirmative).
In the end, I’d bet that Deng starts — just as Trudell notes. Walton likes experience and, whether you think it should matter or not, Deng makes a ton of money. Deng will be mistake averse and, honestly, i’d imagine even if he starts he’ll play 15-18 minutes and that will be that. Kuzma and Clarkson and Brewer will get more minutes to compensate and that will be that.