Even with Anthony Davis out of the lineup Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers cruised to a blowout win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were sparked early by Kyle Kuzma in his first start of the season.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said before the game that Kuzma would be the usual replacement for Davis and LeBron James when they need to sit out, and a part of that is how well the young forward plays when he’s in the starting lineup.
Kuzma did not disappoint as Davis’ replacement as he led all players in scoring with 20 points, and added three rebounds, three assists and three blocks. He also led the team in plus-minus, getting an absurd plus-38 on the night.
Last season, Kuzma put up significantly better numbers in his nine games as a starter, and it appears that trend will continue in 2020-21. “Just more opportunities,” he said of the difference in production.
“Obviously we’ve got two superstars, and rightfully so. If one of those guys is out, I just have more opportunity. Just having more opportunity. Every time I have an opportunity, I just try to seize the moment and take it full on.
“A season like this, playing back-to-backs, Coach and the organization being conservative with ‘Bron and A.D., just allows me to work on my game and bring to life what I work on every day.”
What was perhaps most impressive about Kuzma’s performance is the fact that he stayed within himself amid hot shooting. In fact, he didn’t take a single shot attempt in the second half.
“I just didn’t have shots. Maybe could’ve took one or two, but just tried to take what the defense gave me,” Kuzma explained. “I saw a lot of open men out there. Obviously I got hot in the first half and I was the focal point for their defense in the second half, so I used that to my advantage. Had gravity and my teammates kept pouring it in.”
Vogel agreed with Kuzma’s assessment that opportunities are behind Kuzma’s production when comparing starting and coming off the bench, not acceptance of role. Vogel noted without one of Davis or James, the ball naturally gets to Kuzma more frequently.
Kuzma was back to coming off the bench Monday, and it was a step back as he finished with just six points in the Lakers’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Vogel impressed with non-shooting impact of Kuzma’s performance
While it’s obviously great to score 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, Vogel was more impressed with another aspect of Kuzma’s performance. “Kuz has really become a helluva player,” Vogel began.
“Playing in the role he played in last year, there were games he wasn’t really involved in the offense and had to impact the game in other ways, I think in the long run it really, really, really helped his game.
“So many young players come into this league in different environments and they’re asked to carry a big load offensively. When they do that, sometimes it shortcuts other parts of the game. He’s really worried about his defense, rebounding, cutting, running the floor, all those types of things. I think you saw that when he started scoring the ball. He didn’t force. That was the most impressive thing.
“When he got red hot and the all was swinging to him, the defense was rotating, he didn’t take heat-check type shots. He kept moving it on to the next guy and if he was open, he knocked it down. I was just really impressed with that aspect.”
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