However, a foot injury Kuzma suffered during his time with Team USA Basketball forced him to miss the first four games of the season. Even upon returning, he looked like a player who was still working himself back into shape and it showed as he did not have the same offensive rhythm to his game that fans were accustomed to seeing.
The 24-year-old eventually began to flash the scoring ability the Lakers were high on coming into his third season, but a nagging ankle injury put him back on the shelf and he has remained out of the lineup since.
According to Tania Ganguli of Los Angeles Times, Frank Vogel believes Kuzma is relatively close to returning:
“He’s ramping up his activity,” Vogel said. “We’re hopeful that, again, no timeline, we’re hoping he gets a full practice in on Saturday and could potentially be available on Sunday.”
However, the team is being cautious and it looks like he will only play when his ankle is completely healed:
Kuzma has been with the Lakers through their five-game trip but has not played. Vogel said the Lakers are waiting until he is completely pain free before allowing him to play again.
It is fair to wonder whether or not Kuzma’s up-and-down performances when he was playing were related to his injury but either way, it is smart for the Lakers to be patient with him as he is one of the few players on the roster who is capable of creating his own shot. Los Angeles has seen their offense bog down during long stretches, so having a healthy Kuzma to help carry the scoring load will be crucial once he is ready to return.
Davis and James are more than capable of carrying the scoring load when they are on the floor, but Kuzma provides a spot-up and cutting threat that defenses have to account for whenever one of the All-Star players has the ball. He is also another weapon defensively as he can serviceably defend smaller wings and switch onto guards in late shot clock situations.
While the purple and gold have a hold on the top spot in the Western Conference, getting Kuzma back to full strength is pivotal as he raises the ceiling of the team. Hopefully, he returns sooner rather than later and settles into his role.