Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton moved Kyle Kuzma moved back into the starting lineup against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, and he responded with a career-high 38 points in a historic performance for a rookie.
Kuzma has hardly averaged, or ever will average, 38 points per game in starts, but the night did continue a trend of the young forward’s box scores looking better in games he starts instead of coming off of the bench.
After his game against the Rockets, Kuzma is now averaging 19.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and shooting 44.1 percent from behind the arc as a starter. That’s opposed to averages of 15.6, 6.1 and 37.5 percent in those categories, respectively, while coming off the bench.
Some of that should be chalked up to Kuzma averaging around four extra minutes per game in his 12 starts against the 16 in which he’s come off the bench. His averages per 36 minutes are actually slightly better across the board as a reserve.
However, Kuzma also said he does get an intangible boost from starting, via an interview on ESPN LA Radio:
“I definitely have a little bit more juice, definitely starting. Starting, you’re playing against prime-time guys from the jump. For me, I know I’m going to play the same type of minutes, starting or not starting. To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter, because I still have to go out there and do what I do.”
Kuzma’s hot shooting in his starts compared to bench appearances could be a statistical aberration. But it also might just be reflective of the little extra confidence boost he gets from being trusted with starters’ minutes, especially when considering that shooting is in large part about a player’s mental approach.
The good news for Kuzma is that nights like he had against the Rockets continue to build an argument for him remaining a starter, so he might be getting an unlimited supply of the ‘juice’ he’s seeking soon enough.