As the NBA’s All-Star break nears, teams around the league have a chance to take stock of their current situation. Some will attack the waivers market, and others will tank in an attempt to push along the rebuilding process. One team who doesn’t have to focus on either situation is the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the Lakers can still make the playoffs, but there aren’t any expectations to do so. Having traded for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, the team has some rotational issues that will need to be worked out when Lonzo Ball returns from injury. Most fans are worrying about what the starting five will look like in a few weeks time. However, the Lakers bench has just as many questions marks as the starters.
Taking a Look at the Los Angeles Lakers Role Players Situation
The Lakers bench
Before the NBA Trade Deadline, the Lakers bench was headlined by Jordan Clarkson. Now in Cleveland, Clarkson provided a spark off the bench. Having traded Clarkson in the Isaiah Thomas deal, the Lakers will now look to Kyle Kuzma to provide that spark. The rookie sensation has been great in the first half of the season and remains in the rookie of the year race. Kuzma was an unknown talent in college, unlike one of his teammates. Josh Hart has been a pleasant surprise for Lakers fans, as the former Villanova star continues to make an impact on the team.
Averaging just 13.5 minutes and 2.4 points in the month of November, Hart has been climbing the minutes’ ladder ever since. The difference between Hart in November to now is absolutely astounding. Currently playing over 33 minutes per game, Hart is also averaging 12.6 points and over nine rebounds. This is mainly due to Ball’s absence. Since Ball has been missing due to injury, Hart has started on a consistent basis. Hart will likely return to the Lakers bench when Ball returns, but the rookies’ talent is clear to see when given the opportunity.
The team has seen great progress made by both rookies, but every good team needs its veterans. Head coach Luke Walton will look to Thomas to play the sixth man role when Ball returns, but Thomas is still expected to see plenty of minutes. The Lakers have relied on Corey Brewer to contribute off the bench and that shouldn’t change. However, the introduction of Frye does impact the rotation slightly. The 11-year veteran will be a useful player, adding depth at the power forward spot.
A Big Situation
Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant are both 20 years old. Having spent most of the season switching between G-League duty and NBA garbage time minutes, Zubac and Bryant now have an opportunity to prove themselves. Zubac, a regular contributor last season, played his season-high in minutes the game immediately following the trade deadline. A real post presence, the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 draft offers the Lakers something different on the court. Capable of scoring from 18-feet-and-in, the 7-foot-1-inch center brings another dimension to the Lakers offense as well as some rim protection.
Bryant, on the other hand, is a more versatile player. Capable of shooting the three-ball, the rookie out of Indiana provides strong play in the paint as well as a respectable shot. The arrival of Frye means we are more likely to see Bryant at center, than power forward. Seeing Zubac and Bryant more is great, with one a fan favorite and the other a promising prospect. Expect good things from both down the stretch.
It’s Time to Move on From Tyler Ennis
Once a promising player, Tyler Ennis has seen his candle go out in Los Angeles. The Canadian point guard played a good role in the Lakers bench rotation last season but has since struggled. Starting on 11 occasions, Ennis is a solid role player. However, with the likes of Alex Caruso out-performing him lately, the Lakers have a decision to make. Ennis can still play in the NBA, he’s more than capable. In the right scheme and offense, he can be the solid contributor that he was towards the end of last season.
The Lakers under Walton play at a high pace on a nightly basis. In fact, the Lakers lead the league in pace. This goes against Ennis’ strengths but plays to Caruso’s. This would lead many to believe Caruso would play ahead of Ennis, this hasn’t been the case. Caruso, a former Texas A&M Aggie, is yet to start this season. The rookie has also spent most of the season moving back and forth between the Lakers and the G-League. Ennis is reportedly great in practice, and this might be influencing Walton’s decision. With both players likely to become free agents this off-season, general manager Rob Pelinka has more than incoming free agent decisions to make this summer.
Kyle Kuzma will be counted on to provide a spark off the Lakers bench. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)