The Los Angeles Lakers added more offensive weapons to their roster over the offseason with the signing of Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder. But, defensively, they haven’t been the same beast they were last season.
In their Friday matchup against the Bulls, the Lakers allowed 62 points in the paint. Although they won the game, they failed to contain dribble penetration at the point of attack. Zach LaVine and Coby White were able to get where they wanted when they wanted, while Thaddeus Young and Wendell Carter Jr. punished the Lakers down low.
“Our defense was … obviously missed A.D. probably even more on the defensive end than on the offensive end,” Vogel told reporters after the game. “But we competed, we grinded through it. … We weren’t playing our best basketball, second night of a back-to-back, but we hung in there and grinded it out.”
Again, they’re 8-3 and have been dominant on the offensive end, but their defensive woes are pressing. In order to repeat, LA will need to rediscover the rim protection they lost when they traded JaVale McGee and let go of Dwight Howard.
A trade is the only option for patching up the defensive hole that has been nagging this team, and the player whose market value and role on the team best serve the Lakers in this scenario is Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma has had promising moments this season, as well as moments where he looks like he doesn’t know his role on the team– mainly when he has to come off the bench. Kuzma said it himself prior to the season that he doesn’t know where he stands.
Kuzma has made strides offensively, which is why the Lakers committed to him in a three-year extension. But, this also raises questions as to whether his style of play on this current roster fits.
He has spent four seasons in the NBA since being drafted back in 2017 by the Brooklyn Nets. In those four seasons, Kuzma has averaged 15.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. He’s also shot nearly 45 percent from the floor and only turned it over 1.8 times per contest.
Kuzma has shown that he has upside. A few games ago, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kuzma had what seemed to be a breakout game. He made eight of his 11 shots in the first half, scoring 20-points in the half. He did so, starting in Davis’ absence.
He followed this game with a six-point outing, where he looked lost on the court. The Lakers could try and push through the growing pains with Kuzma, or they find a player who’s game is seat to fit their team right now.
The Lakers could shop Kuzma for a versatile defender who can defend the paint area, while also playing the wing on offense. That player would be the Raptors Chris Boucher.
On top of his defensive presence, Boucher has made 29 shots in the restricted area this season, according to NBA.com. He has been Toronto’s best offensive rebounder, as well. He leads the Raptors with 15 offensive rebounds on the season and ranks behind only nine players in the entire league in points scored off of putbacks.
While Boucher would give the Lakers a much needed defensive boost, he also matches the team’s offensive speed, length, and versatility– as he is shooting 42% from the three-point line and 57% from the field. He would be able to play with Lebron James and Anthony Davis, whether it be on the wing or even at the five position. He would also add another scoring punch off the bench, becoming a key pairing with Wesley Matthews and Montrezl Harrell.
Boucher would be a perfect fit on a Laker team in dire need of defensive versatility, making them even heavier favorites to repeat.