Kyle Kuzma seeks solution for struggling Lakers, campaigns publicly for more Marc Gasol minutes

Marc Gasol’s playing time has been a subject of significant debate among Los Angeles Lakers fans since Andre Drummond arrived. The future Hall of Famer started the first 35 games of the season for the Lakers, and reclaimed his spot after a bout with COVID-19, but has been held out of nine of their 17 games since Drummond’s debut. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Lakers are 6-11 in those games. 

Fans have been questioning why Drummond needed to supplant Gasol for weeks, but on Sunday, a Lakers player even acknowledged that the team would benefit from the veteran’s presence. “I’m not sure what to do,” Kyle Kuzma said after the team’s third straight defeat, this time at the hands of the undermanned Toronto Raptors. “I wish we could get a little bit more time out there with Marc [Gasol]. That’d be something that would be pretty good for us, for sure.”

The statistical case in Gasol’s favor is overwhelming. He is the only center on the team with a positive plus-minus since Drummond arrived at plus-13. The Lakers have been outscored by six points with Drummond on the floor, and more distressingly, they’ve lost Montrezl Harrell’s minutes by 61 points. Before Anthony Davis got hurt, the starting lineup featuring him, Gasol, LeBron James, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dennis Schroder destroyed teams by 13.9 points per 100 possessions. The sample is small, but so far, Drummond and Davis have played 133 minutes together and the Lakers have lost those minutes by 26 points. The two have struggled to find any chemistry on defense, and offensively, Drummond’s presence as a non-shooter has clogged the paint for Davis. 

Gasol’s shooting makes it easier for teammates to get to the basket, and his passing is infectious. The Lakers have a 64 percent assist rate with him on the floor and a 59.1 percent assist rate when he’s on the bench. He is by no means Drummond’s equal as an athlete, but remains an effective defender, thanks to his high basketball IQ. 

Teams with as much star power as the Lakers need those things out of their role players. The Lakers won a championship last season because their supporting cast made smart plays, hit timely shots and defended at an extremely high level. They aren’t doing those things right now, and even the players are acknowledging that. 

Ironically, the Gasol-Kuzma pairing, specifically, hasn’t been particularly successful. In 442 minutes on the court together, the Lakers have been outscored by 27 points. That isn’t particularly meaningful in the grand scheme of things, as most of those minutes came with Davis out and many more came without James, but it’s not as if Gasol and Kuzma have been some seminal pairing in this iteration of the Lakers. They’ve been teammates for only around five months, but even in that brief span, Kuzma has seen what Gasol can give his team and is willing to campaign publicly for more of it.

That’s not an action any player takes lightly. It’s especially rare on a championship team. Frank Vogel has earned the benefit of the doubt, and he managed the rotation brilliantly on the way to the 2020 championship. But something is not right for the Lakers right now, and if even a core player thinks the rotation needs a shakeup, it’s something that the team needs to seriously consider. 

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