The Los Angeles Lakers are less than a week away from beginning scrimmages, at which point head coach Frank Vogel will need to solidify a postseason rotation.
While the starting lineup is essentially ready to go with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope filling in for Avery Bradley, how the bench minutes are split will be determined by the play of Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, JR Smith and Dion Waiters, among others, after such a long hiatus.
Kuzma — who went into the season looking to be the Lakers third option — quickly found himself struggling to adjust to a new role. That, coupled with some training camp injuries, led to a considerable drop in production. It took until just before the hiatus for Kuzma to hit his stride in a brand new way.
When asked about Kuzma’s ability to serve as a potential replacement for the losses of Bradley and Rajon Rondo, Vogel had nothing but positive things to say. “I’m hopeful. Kuz has been one of our best players since the restart in these practices,” Vogel said. “He’s had a couple of stretches where he just dominated the floor. It’s been really encouraging to see.
“He had some inconsistency with the beginning of the season because he dealt with three different injuries that really prohibited him from getting his legs under him. The shot making wasn’t always there, but it’s been there at a very high level during this restart. We’re very encouraged and excited about what having a healthy training camp could mean for him. Hopefully that leads to an increased role and gives us that boost we’re looking for.”
Injuries can certainly be attributed to Kuzma’s tough start to the year. However, beyond those, it took him much longer to figure out exactly where he fit on the roster. With LeBron James, Anthony Davis and an overall more experienced team, it was much easier for others to fill gaps.
Kuzma has only been in the NBA for three years, meaning he’s still learning who he is as a player outside of the Lakers roster specifically. It took until almost the All-Star break for Kuzma to realize that the team was in need of a hustle player.
Since then, all parts of his game have come more naturally, especially things like rebounding and scoring. And now that he has solidified himself in this role, it’s easier for Kuzma to work on improving.
This makes Vogel’s job a lot easier, as now he knows which lineups Kuzma fits in, and which lineups he’ll struggle in. However, hearing such positive developments from practices is great news for the Lakers, who will need help from all parts of the roster given the lost depth at guard.
Kuzma sees NBA restart as brand new season
Kuzma’s dominance during practices can possibly be due to the fact that his mindset regarding the NBA restart is different than the average player.
“It’s zero-zero, no wins, no losses. Some players kind of shut it down and have to regain their body, so I look at it essentially as my fourth year,” Kuzma recently said.
If this is what he truly believes, and his play is a reflection of that, then this can only mean positive things for L.A. moving forward. Perhaps the hiatus was exactly what Kuzma needed to learn how to thrive.
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