With starting center Brook Lopez lost for at least three weeks due to a right ankle sprain, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton had to decide who would replace him. One candidate Walton ruled out prior to his team beginning a two-game road trip was Ivica Zubac.
Walton explained the Lakers felt it best to leave Zubac with their G League affiliate so he couldn’t continue to receive ample playing time. That left Andrew Bogut, Thomas Bryant and Julius Randle among the options to replace Lopez, or Kyle Kuzma if the Lakers elected to go small.
Walton, somewhat surprisingly, opted to start the seldom-used Bogut. He explained the decision to go with the veteran, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“When I coached him in Golden State, we played Houston both playoffs that we were up there together, so I knew that he was familiar with James, and he did a good job back in those playoff series as well. I was planning on only playing Bogut a couple minutes. Four minutes to start the game and then getting into more of a normal rotation. That group was playing so well and he was doing what he does as far as rebounding, protecting the paint, that it turned into extended minutes.”
As it turned out, Walton’s instincts were correct. On paper, Bogut isn’t a great fit for trying to defend the 3-point bombing Houston Rockets. But since they started an aging Nene at their center position, Walton was able to take advantage of Bogut’s experience dealing with this particular team and James Harden.
Walton also astutely predicted that sliding Bogut into the Lakers starting center position would be trouble for the team’s spacing, which is usually aided by Lopez’s ability to hit threes. To mitigate this concern, Walton shifted starting power forward Larry Nance Jr. to the bench in favor of rookie Kyle Kuzma, who responded with a career-high 38 points in his best performance of the season.
Walton did mention that he plans to tinker with lineups while Lopez is out, making changes determined by who the Lakers are playing. It’s possible that the Bogut’s starting role may have just been a one-game cameo, but at least against the Rockets, it worked.