With Kyle Kuzma working his way back from injury, will Frank Vogel eventually look to input him into the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Lakers?
If there is one player from last season’s Los Angeles Lakers roster that had anything to prove it was Kyle Kuzma. After a successful, yet surprising start to his career during his rookie season, the kid from Flint, Michigan appeared to have taken a step back in his second year in the league. While his scoring averages increased slightly, his efficiency from behind the arc dropped significantly.
When Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka refused to include Kyle Kuzma in a deal for Anthony Davis this past offseason, it became clear who the Lakers favored amongst the prized young core. Brandon Ingram had his ups and downs and Lonzo Ball showed great defensive abilities. However, the Lakers’ brass saw something different in Kuzma that was lacking in Ball or Ingram.
Kuzma has shown a slight Mamba-Mentality in his first two seasons that might impress some. He spends numerous hours in the gym and is not afraid to seek out the advice from those that came before him (most notably, Kobe Bryant).
Even Kuzma’s wardrobe selection and hair styles scream Hollywood, something that Ball and Ingram may have lacked in their stints with the Lakers. He, alongside other Lakers’ players, spent a good portion of the offseason training with Lethal Shooter, a well-known shooting coach, in hopes of improving his sub-par 3-point percentage.
Kuzma took advantage of his time this summer working out and playing for Team USA, going against some of the league’s best and picking the brain of mastermind of Gregg Popovich. Unfortunately, his time with the team was cut short due to a stress reaction in his left ankle that would sideline him the rest of the offseason and into the start of the NBA regular season.
After his return from injury, coach Frank Vogel placed Kyle Kuzma on a minutes restriction in order to work the forward in gradually. In his first four games back, Kuzma looked rusty to say the least, averaging just 9 points per game on 37.5% shooting and 13% three-point shooting. Since then, however, Kuzmania has been in full effect. Not including Tuesday’s game versus the Oklahoma City Thunder when he was forced to leave the game early with an eye abrasion, Kuzma has been averaging 18 points per game on 50% shooting and 46.9% three-point shooting since his poor start to the season.
In a season where this Lakers team will be in desperate need of scoring from guys outside of LeBron James and Davis, Kyle Kuzma will need to continue to improve on his efficiency. Last season, Kuzma averaged just slightly over 30% from behind the arc, down from 36.6% his rookie season. Theoretically with the addition of Davis this season, one should expect him to see better looks this season and he will be relied on to knock them down consistently.
As of now, Coach Vogel has looked at Kuzma to headline the bench unit in order to provide scoring to a lineup with a lack of shot-creators. Outside of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope replacing the injured Avery Bradley and Kuzma filling in for the load-managed Davis recently, the coaching staff has left the starting lineup intact. While this tactic has led to success early, there is untapped potential in a lineup that would feature Kuzma alongside James and Davis to start games.
If Vogel were to decide to experiment with Kuzma in the starting lineup, there are a couple of different ways he could go about it. One option would be to input him into Bradley’s spot at the. This would keep Davis at his desired power forward spot while bringing in added scoring from Kuzma.
There would some downfalls with this plan, however. Bradley has been given the task of guarding most of the opposing team’s point guards, oftentimes picking them up full-court. Fans are able to see flashes of the Boston Celtics version of Bradley, giving the team a grittiness that has helped lead to one of the best defenses in the league. Without Bradley on the court, James would be in charge of guarding point guards, which would most likely put more pressure on his body over the course of a long season.
Another option that could be considered to bring Kuzma into the starting unit would be sliding Davis to the center spot and playing Kuzma at power forward, a position Kyle has had success playing. This lineup could be deadly on most nights, as their length and ability to switch could cause nightmares for the opposition.
Davis would need to sign off on playing the five, something he has said he may consider if needed. It would be assumed that the superstar would be more open to finishing off games at center than starting. Another fear with this theory would be how JaVale McGee would respond following a demotion to the bench, as he has a history of playing lackadaisically in similar scenarios.
Placing Kuzma in the starting lineup may not come right away, if at all. Altering a lineup on a team boasting the NBA’s best record could be risky, as it has the possibility of disrupting the chemistry that exists within the current starting lineup. Kuzma has mentioned that he would like to become the Lakers’ third option besides James and Davis. Year three may be the most important test yet for the lone remaining member of the young core.