As the Los Angeles Lakers continue to struggle offensively through their seeding games, Kyle Kuzma has emerged as one of the few shining lights of the NBA restart so far.
The third-year forward made an impact coming off the bench in the first four seeding games and started in the 113-97 loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday with LeBron James held out due to a sore groin. Kuzma has shown good defensive effort and his shooting has visibly improved compared to the pre-hiatus stats.
The Utah alum has made 12 threes on 26 attempts (46%), a significant boost compared to his 31.3% average this season. Kuzma’s form provides Lakers head coach Frank Vogel with additional rotation options. He can either be a versatile sixth man or allow the Lakers to go small by moving Anthony Davis to the center position.
But it is Kuzma’s defensive commitment that has received the most praise from Vogel since the bubble experiment started. And the forward says keeping his defensive game strong is what he focuses on in Orlando, especially when playing alongside the Laker stars.
“My scoring doesn’t matter,” Kuzma said. “Coach says it all the time: he wants us to be a well-rounded team that moves the ball outside of our superstars. I never judge my performances off trying to score and have a certain amount of points because that’s not my situation.
“The situation I’m in is trying to figure out a niche, defending at a high level, and being a great teammate. That’s what I can control.”
Kuzma obviously has more opportunities to show his overall improvement he made during the four-month hiatus when Davis and James are not playing. But clearly he is not hoping the All-Star are ruled out, just like James was against the Rockets, simply to get more minutes on the court.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to win games and help this team win a championship,” Kuzma says. “Whatever that is, whatever coach asks, that’s what I’m doing.”
Lineup adjustment in Rocket loss not a long-term solution
Vogel experimented with his roster more than usual while James and Alex Caruso were held out of the Rockets game. But the Lakers head coach indicated the adjustments were just something he wanted to try, not a permanent change forced by his team’s shooting struggles.
“I don’t think this is going to be a long-term solution for us,” Vogel said. “Really, it doesn’t have anything to do with how we played the last couple games offensively. You collect sample size in the regular season for things that work and don’t work against certain matchups.”
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