Kyle Kuzma is the next man up for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kyle Kuzma and the Los Angeles Lakers are currently riding a four-game win streak on the heels of defeating the San Antonio Spurs twice. Now, after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in their building twice, the Lakers return to Staples Center to once again face San Antonio.
Lakers fans must not assume this should be an easy win. True, San Antonio’s legendary head coach Gregg Popovich will not be able to hop into a time machine fast enough to get peak Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili back on the court. None of those guys are walking through that door, but LaMarcus Aldridge is playing this time around.
Aldridge is no joke. In San Antonio’s last game against the Clippers, he scored 14 points and snagged six rebounds in 25 minutes. While that was not an earth-shattering performance, he is still a threat to score against the Lakers’ somewhat-weakened interior defense.
The Lakers will be further weakened considering LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (adductor strain) are listed as questionable. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (ankle) is again out for tonight’s game.
AD’s injury is especially concerning because he also had an adductor strain back in 2017 when he was with the New Orleans Pelicans. My theory is only AD is not playing tonight, but I would not be shocked if LeBron sits out as well.
Regardless of who plays, it is a safe bet Kyle Kuzma starts tonight since he is the designated fill-in for the LeBron/AD/KCP trio in the starting lineup. When Kuzma starts, he either hits a home run or strikes out in his quest to prove his potential for stardom.
Even during this season, Kuzma has been inconsistent in the starting lineup. When Kuzma filled in for Anthony Davis against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he scored 20 points in only 29 minutes of action. But in the last game against Memphis, he only had 5 points filling in for KCP.
Now likely to start again tonight, what can Kuzma do to impact the game?
How Kyle Kuzma can best impact the game:
Kuzma is at his best when he creates offense for himself by doing the little things. He does not get anywhere near enough credit for doing the little things necessary to create offense for the Lakers, especially for always cutting hard to the basket and sprinting down the court.
On this highlight, Anthony Davis starts the play by intercepting an errant pass then quickly pushing the ball up the court, but Kuzma finishes it by sprinting down the right side of the court.
The Lakers won by two points! Kuzma’s dunk was two of his five points on an otherwise unremarkable night, but that extra effort ultimately sealed the victory for the Lakers considering they semi-imploded down the stretch against Memphis full-court press.
Why Kyle Kuzma cannot play like a superstar:
But that was one of his worst games. His best game of the season was played against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Notice all of Kuzma’s highlights came from playing solid help defense and moving without the ball.
Judging by this video montage, he never tried to do too much. He made all his shots within the flow of the offense. When he attacked the basket, he made the easy pass to the open man instead of trying to make an acrobatic finish.
This is the Kyle Kuzma who earned a $40 million contract extension. Kuzma earned it by playing fundamentally-sound basketball, not by big-timing his role. When he tries to play like a superstar, he is at his worst.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are once-in-a-generation talents. They can make the spectacular plays that Kuzma and others can only dream of, but they can also make normal plays as well. Check out this amazing give-and-go between LeBron and Marc Gasol.
Kuzma has no excuses! LeBron doesn’t big-time the little things. I am encouraged because Gasol and Kuzma have already developed a strong give-and-go synergy in the half-court, as evidenced by the aforementioned video montage dedicated to Kuzma.
However, if Kuzma wants to see the court in crunch time, he must be a consistent threat to knock down three-pointers to open up driving lanes for LeBron or AD. This made three-pointer against Portland shows how valuable it is to have multiple shooters on the court at all times.
How Kuzma’s role can be judged going forward:
Last season, the NBA average for three-point shooting percentage was 35 percent. Kuzma’s career mark from three-point range has been 33.3 percent to date, but for this season it is at a blistering 39.5 percentage.
If he can sustain that hot shooting start, Kuzma will quickly live up to his $40 million contract. In fact, it may go down as one of the most shrewd signings in Lakers history. Kuzma, at his best, does all the little things necessary to keep the Lakers’ offense firing at all cylinders. His improved three-point shooting will only serve to keep him on the court in crunch time.
But for tonight, he must avoid the temptation to play like LeBron James or Anthony Davis. He must play like the best version of Kyle Kuzma.