3 out of 82 games have been played so far and while most opinions seem to be too extreme at this point, there seems to be one constant question on every Lakers fan's mind: why are Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma, the two best players in preseason, coming off the bench? Given how talented both are, it is confusing why these two have not seen the minutes they deserve, especially considering a few lesser talented guys are getting more minutes than they deserve. However, let's consider what the Lakers should do with JuJu and Kuzco in their rotations.
After a very good preseason, Julius Randle has either looked inconsistent, erratic, or disinterested for all but the second half of the game versus the Pelicans. This can be attributed to the number of minutes he has been allocated. He played 18 minutes against the Clippers, 13 against the Suns, and 24 against the Pelicans. He has averaged 28 minutes per game over his career, including starting 133 of his 159 career games. He is quite simply not used to this type of role off the bench. Furthermore, he did nothing to deserve the demotion. Given Brook Lopez and Lonzo Ball missed a lot of the preseason, the Lakers' second-best player during that stretch was easily Randle. He was their best rebounder and pick n' roll (PNR) defender. His finishing was also quite good, and his outlet passes helped the Lakers get into their sets easier.
Kuzmania Taking Off
As for Kyle Kuzma, he has easily been the Lakers' best scorer. His floor spacing, aggression, and array of moves at his size has given the Lakers a great go-to option. After 20-point after 20-point game in the preseason, he is averaging 20 points per 36 minutes on 78% shooting from 2, only 30% from 3, and an overall 61% from the field. That is a very small sample, but he has been impressive. He will probably increase that 3-point percentage as the year goes on, which will help space the floor, which the Lakers desperately need. Kuzma has the tools to be a good, rangy defender given his size, quickness, and effort, but it will take a while before he becomes good as he starts to learn rotations and put on muscle. His passing also gives the Lakers more fluidity in the offense. After only 19 minutes against the Clippers, Kuzma has played 28 and 30 minutes these last two games and the Lakers' offense has been much better when he's been in the game because of it.
Both Randle and Kuzma are two of the Lakers' five best players along with Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez, and potentially Brandon Ingram. In my opinion, Brook Lopez is the best followed by Randle, Ball, Kuzma, and Ingram in that order. That can probably be the starting lineup. At least have Kuzma or Randle as the sixth man and start Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Unless they completely go off, Larry Nance, Jr. and Corey Brewer should not be taking Randle and Kuzma's minutes. Brewer had one good defensive half versus Phoenix. That's about it. He brings energy to the table, which is fine, but should not take a ton of minutes. Nance, on the other hand, is a decent defender, rebounder, and hustler, which should give him a key role on this team, but as a backup. Randle is a better roll man, passer, rebounder, and PNR defender which makes him more valuable. Kuzma is a better scorer and shooter which helps space the floor. Nance is better used in the second unit playing against other second units with Clarkson, Hart, and one or two other starters.
Adding Randle or Kuzma to the starting lineup and giving both more minutes will help the Lakers' slow, putrid starts. Against the Clippers and Pelicans, the Lakers have come out of the gate slowly. The lack of spacing and energy early on are probably the biggest reasons they have those two losses. I would start both Kuzma and Randle at the 4 and 5 respectively with Lopez off the bench in some matchups so the Lakers can start off pushing the pace and get off to quick starts to set the tone. Lopez can still get 25-30 minutes or even more and finish the game in crunch time.
Giving minutes to these two forwards not only improves the team, but it improves them as players. Randle and Kuzma are young and still have room to grow. They are valuable assets moving forward so they should do whatever it takes to increase their skills. In Randle's case, there are tons of speculation of him getting traded due to his impending restricted free agency. Even though just trading him and Luol Deng for the sake of cap space does not intrigue me, for the right deal I would be interested. Relegating Julius to a limited minute bench role depreciates his value. It also disgruntles him, which will make him either overcompensate with erratic play like he did in the first 2 games or play apathetically which he did in the first half of the Pelicans game. Nothing good has or will come from this benching.
My take is Luke Walton needs to unleash his two stud forwards for the betterment of the team. It is quite simple: play your best players because they give you the best chance to win. Worry about fit later because these guys are all young, so they need time to figure it out. Both Randle and Kuzma play two positions depending on matchups, which gives Walton multiple 5-man combinations. They should both be averaging around 30 minutes per game. While this will probably not dramatically lead the team to the playoffs, perhaps, it will make them more competitive and it will not just make the team better, it will make guys like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram better because they will have more to work with. Walton should not wait until late in the season to play the young guys. He needs to start now.