As Anthony Davis remains sidelined because of lower-leg injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers have counted on Kyle Kuzma to step up in his absence.
Kuzma received the starting nod against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the first game after Davis’ injury, and still appeared to be acclimating to the new role, finishing with seven points and four rebounds. But in the following three games against the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Washington Wizards, Kuzma escalated his production to a new level.
In those three games, he averaged 17.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 block, shooting 40% from the field and 37% from 3-point range. Despite the Lakers dropping all three contests, Kuzma looked rejuvenated on both ends of the floor, a huge boost for Los Angeles searching for points without Davis at power forward.
However, head coach Frank Vogel switched things up in their contest against the Utah Jazz, swapping Kuzma and Wesley Matthews for Markieff Morris and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Kuzma has entered the game off the bench in the last few games, where he’s witnessed declines in his scoring. Despite that though, Kuzma understands where his focus must lie.
“I’ve just got to control what I can control,” Kuzma said. “I can’t control if I start or come off the bench, shoot the ball, whatever. I just control what I can control. That’s where I’m at right now.”
Vogel added to Kuzma’s acknowledgment of his role, explaining what the forward must do to help the squad.
“Kyle knows his role doesn’t change whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Vogel said. “We want him to be aggressive scoring the ball and crashing (for rebounds).”
Over his four years in L.A., Kuzma’s held a reputation for being a chucker at times, opting for contested looks and not passing the ball. Vogel wants the scoring to remain, but Kuzma improving his IQ is just as imperative.
“But more importantly than the aggressive scoring is aggressive reading. We want him to be in attack mode and take good shots, just like everybody else on the team. But his role doesn’t change whether he starts or comes off the bench.”
Kuzma says ‘champions’ on Lakers roster helped find rhythm
The Lakers looked revitalized in their two-game win streak over the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors. Dennis Schroder’s return has provided L.A. with a necessary shot-creator alongside LeBron James, but Kuzma credited the championship mentality on the roster that helped fight through the slump.
“We’ve just got champions on this team,” Kuzma said. “We’ve got people that have been in the foxhole with each other, we’ve been together the past two years a lot, we know each others’ games and we know how to play off each other.”
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