Since the beginning of the season many have spoken about the Los Angeles Lakers’ need for a third star to emerge. The widely held belief was that third-year forward Kyle Kuzma was the ideal player to do just that considering his well-known ability to score the basketball.
Unfortunately a summer injury that forced Kuzma out of training camp and a new role to adjust to combined to play a big role in taking a step back for much of the year. But since the NBA restart in Orlando, Kuzma has been the most consistent member of the Lakers and the team’s win over the Denver Nuggets was his best showing yet.
With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sitting out, Kuzma was inserted into the starting lineup and had a huge night with 25 points, six rebounds and three assists. He capped the night off with a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining.
But despite a great night with the starters, Kuzma remaining a starter seemingly won’t be the case. “I think it’s unlikely we keep him in the starting lineup. It’s something we have available depending on what matchup we’re looking at,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said.
“We’re likely going to need two quick guards against most of these teams we could be facing. It’s a small-ball league, so we’re going to need defensive speed on the perimeter. KCP and Danny are likely to be in the starting lineup. But if you get in different matchups, [the Nuggets] 3-man is 6’10” in Michael Porter Jr.
“So if you get into a matchup against Denver or another team that’s big, that could be an option for us. It’s just another part of the trial and error and evaluation of looking at different things during these seeding games.”
Although Vogel sees Kuzma sliding back to the bench, that’s not to suggest he won’t be asked to fill an important role for the team. “He understands where he fits on this team, and it’s different than what it was last year with Anthony being in the starting lineup and us going big. He’s going to be effective whether he’s coming off the bench or in a starting role,” Vogel added.
“He’s going to be a big-minutes guy for us if he continues to play the way he’s playing and bring that competitive spirit and shot-making. It’s likely going to be a Sixth Man type of role, where he’s playing big minutes but off the bench, to help just balance out our 48 minutes. He’s going to be huge for us in any role we end up using him.”
Kuzma has more than proven he is ready and capable of being a major part of the Lakers’ rotation and there is no way that Vogel won’t allow that to happen.
The question moving forward, however, is whether or not that is the right move for Vogel to make. JaVale McGee has struggled inside of the bubble so far and with numerous teams preferring to play smaller lineups, there may not be a lot of matchups in which McGee is the best option.
Additionally, Vogel himself has spoken about Anthony Davis generating better looks offensively when he plays the center position.
But whether he is a starter or a sixth man, the Lakers will be reliant on Kuzma to come up big when the playoffs begin.
Vogel wants Lakers playing regular minutes to be healthy for playoffs
Vogel has been experimenting with different lineups combinations throughout the seeding games as he looks to figure out his playoff rotation. But in the Lakers win over the Nuggets, the rotation was tightened compared to prior matchups as four of five Lakers starters played 30 or more minutes.
“The balance for me is when we talk about being as healthy as we can, that includes conditioning,” Vogel said this week. “In particular, our main guys have to be ready and feel what it’s like to push high 30s in their minutes. That’s not about anything other than getting them ready and into game shape in the playoffs.
“So you may see that over the next couple games, where those guys play bigger minutes. That’s part of being healthy, is having legs under you. We’ll do that and continue to try to work on the rhythm of our team.”
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