While other members of the Lakers young core were traded, Kuzma remained with the organization.
Their belief was he could emerge as a third scorer to LeBron James and Davis and once the roster was filled out, Kuzma profiled as an ideal sixth man candidate. However, his season was thrown off course by a stress reaction suffered while participating with Team USA.
He missed the first week of the 2019-20 NBA season and has since been slowed by an eye abrasion and a left ankle sprain. Kuzma’s return from the ankle trouble that sidelined him for two weeks and a total five games was encouraging and followed by back-to-back impressive performances.
After scoring 24 points in a win against the Portland Trail Blazers, the third-year forward reiterated he’s moved past injuries, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“I’m just healthy now,” Kuzma said after his 20 first-half points helped the Lakers jump on the Blazers. “I’m confident in my body. I took a little bit of time off, sitting out for five games and really just self-collected what I needed to do and got it done.”
With improved health, Kuzma noted it’s allowed him to play more aggressively:
“I’m just being in attack mode at all times,” Kuzma said when asked what has changed. “Being the third option, you don’t have the luxury of taking it easy sometimes, so just being in attack mode.”
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel recently voiced confidence in Kuzma and said he would play a key role for the team as the season wears on. And though Kuzma’s play has improved of late, it hasn’t yet amounted to increased opportunities. But only because of a minutes restriction.
“If he’s playing the way he played the last two games, there’s not much more he needs to do; he’ll play more,” Vogel said. “Like all our guys, you’ve got to compete at both ends, perform at both ends and play within what we’re trying to get accomplished.
“He’s competing at a really high level on the defensive end as well. He’s obviously shooting a lot better and just moving better. He’s just been limited the whole first part of the season. When you’re physically limited, you’re not going to play to your abilities. I think it just starts with his health.”
Despite the recent encouraging signs, Kuzma struggled and was scoreless in 26 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks.