(J Alexander Diaz and Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
Lakers Training Camp Roster Breakdown: Small Forwards
Between Brandon Ingram and Lance Stephenson, the Lakers have two long-armed, slashing players competing for a spot in the starting five at training camp. Meanwhile, rookie Svi Mykhailiuk has gained a lot of attention in a short span, while several players could shuffle between the four position and other spots.
Brandon Ingram (16.1 pts, 5.3 reb, 3.9 ast, 47.0 FG%, 39.0 3P%)
Perhaps no Laker took a bigger leap last year than Ingram, who saw his numbers surge across the stat sheet. The 21-year-old showed a greater understanding of how to use his 7-foot-3 wingspan, constantly using that elite length to attack the paint.
Circumstances forced Ingram to play some point guard last year, and it had an immediate impact, as his assists numbers ballooned with his newfound drive-and-kick playmaking. Still the third-youngest player on the team, Ingram is continuing to develop, and should come back with a few new abilities.
Lance Stephenson (9.2 pts, 5.2 reb, 2.9 ast, 42.7% FG, 28.9% 3P)
At 6-foot-5, Stephenson may have the height of a shooting guard, but in eight years of NBA service he has switched between both positions without much difference in production. And on a roster that figures to have Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope soaking up many of the minutes at the two-position, Stephenson would (at a glance) seem to have more opportunity at the three.
Like Ingram, Stephenson’s chief offensive talent is his ability to knife through the defense, both as a scorer and playmaker. He would immediately carve out a larger role if he returns to his 3-point shooting of three years ago (38.5) than the last two seasons (29.0). On the other end, he is an in-your-jersey, lengthy defender who has routinely drawn some of the toughest assignments in the NBA (including new teammate LeBron James).
Svi Mykhailiuk (NCAA: 14.6 pts, 3.9 reb, 2.7 ast, 1.2 stl, 43.4% FG, 44.4% 3P)
Few teams ever get much value out of players drafted 47th overall or lower, but the Lakers seem to have dug up a gem in Mykhailiuk. Still only 21 years old despite playing four seasons of college ball, Mykhailiuk already has one elite skill: 3-point shooting.
Mykhailiuk led his conference by hitting 44.4 percent from deep last season, and he averaged a whopping 2.9 made 3’s on a 40.8 percent clip at the Las Vegas Summer League. More than a perimeter shooter, Svi has also impressed with his ball handling, step-back jumper, and willingness to compete on the glass and on defense.
With a plethora of flexible shooting guards and power forwards, the Lakers have several options if they want to have someone play up or down a position at the three.
For the majority of his 15-year career, James has started at small forward. But with the NBA taken over by a storm of small ball in recent years, LeBron has mostly played the four in both Miami and Cleveland.
Still, he is probably the NBA’s top small forward when he does play that position because of his unprecedented blend of size and speed. Despite his huge frame, he is still faster than most threes, and can bully pretty much any wing in the post or off the dribble.
KCP was the Lakers’ most featured shooter last year, hitting the team’s most 3-pointers and the vast majority of its shots off screens. His on- and off-ball defense were also key to the Lakers’ one-year jump from last in defensive efficiency to 12th.
The 25-year-old showed off some new talents in his fifth season. He led all shooting guards in rebounds, did a nice job of attacking closeouts and getting to the rim (66.7 percent), and flowed between the two-position and the three.
Hart bucks back against being labeled as a “3 and D player,” but that doesn’t take away from his success in both areas. He led the Lakers in 3-point percentage last year and was one of the team’s top defenders despite being a rookie.
Also a great rebounder, Hart was able to show off more of his skill set after the all-star break, averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 boards. Then he had an outstanding summer league, as he was crowned Las Vegas MVP.
Used as a traditional power forward in college, Kuzma never got the chance to play on the wing prior to his rookie season. But when injuries hit the Lakers late in the year, he played successfully played down a position for a few games.
The shift in position allowed him to handle the ball more, which played right into his game. With so many wings on the roster, Kuzma might not have many opportunities to play small forward this season, but it is certainly an option.