The successful acquisition of LeBron James has turned the Los Angeles Lakers from a rebuilding team to a legitimate playoff contender in the deep Western Conference. However, in order to have a real chance of beating the reigning NBA champions, Golden State Warriors, in a best-of-seven series, the Lakers obviously need additional star power on their roster. During the 2018 NBA offseason, the Lakers had the opportunity to add their second superstar when Kawhi Leonard demanded a trade from the San Antonio Spurs.
Unfortunately, the Lakers decided to pass on the deal, believing they could acquire Kawhi Leonard in the 2019 NBA free agency without giving up valuable trade assets. Also, Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka first wanted to see how their young core of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart would perform alongside the best basketball player on the planet, LeBron James.
Since the 2018-19 NBA season started, there has been an ongoing debate regarding who is the Lakers’ second-best player. After establishing a promising performance in the 2017-18 NBA season, most people expected Brandon Ingram to rise to stardom in his first year of playing with LeBron James. Unfortunately, Ingram failed to live up to expectations and hasn’t shown much improvement with his performance, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
Kevin Arnovitz, Chris Herring, Andre Snellings, and Kevin Pelton of ESPN all agreed that Kyle Kuzma, not Brandon Ingram, is the Lakers’ second-best player.
“After dropping 41 points on the Pistons on Wednesday night, it’s fair to say Kuzma has claimed the mantle, at least for the time being,” Arnovitz said.
“He can both spread the floor and create off the bounce, which is more than we can say for the rest of the roster. Kuzma’s defense has improved, though he still doesn’t give the Lakers the flexibility to truly go small because he’s a liability at the 5. There’s still hope that Brandon Ingram can assert himself, but at present he’s simply not enough of a shooter, not sufficiently creative and not enough of a defensive presence to warrant consideration.”
Kyle Kuzma has been impressive since being drafted as the No. 27 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Unlike Brandon Ingram, Kuzma doesn’t have any problem sharing the court with LeBron James. Aside from his ability to excel off the ball, Kuzma has started to show improvements with his performance on the defensive end of the floor. This season, the 23-year-old power forward is averaging 18.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 46.4 percent shooting from the field and 30.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Brandon Ingram still has plenty of time to improve his game and build better chemistry with LeBron James, but if he proves to be an odd fit in Los Angeles, the Lakers may consider including him in a trade package to acquire a legitimate NBA superstar before the February NBA trade deadline or in the 2019 NBA offseason.