After a promising rookie season where he averaged 16.1 points per game, shot 36.6% from deep, and was declared a steal as 27th pick in the draft, Kyle Kuzma’s become the forgotten man on the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster.
While his three-point shooting declined to 30.3% playing alongside LeBron James his sophomore season, Kyle still started and played over 33 minutes per game, averaging a career best 18.8 points and 2.5 assists per game. Unfortunately, with the arrival of superstar power forward Anthony Davis, Kuz lost his starting position this season and saw his stats drop to just 12.5 points in 24.6 minutes per game, while shooting a poor 29.7% from deep.
Now, as the team prepares to take off for Orlando in a couple of days, Kyle has all but disappeared from discussions of which players have a chance to be wild cards and x-factors for the Lakers as the season/playoffs resume. Frankly, the only news we hear about him is social media buzz about dating Winnie Harlow or attending Teyana Taylor’s Album Release Party. Nobody’s talking about Kuz and whether he can help the Lakers win a championship.
Instead, the talk has been about Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters, and JR Smith, three new veteran players whose addition to the Lakers’ playoff roster could end up reducing Kuzma’s playing time and opportunities. Those moves, combined with James and Davis upping their regular season 34 minutes per game to a playoff 40 minutes per game, are going to create intense competition for playing time among Lakers’ bench players.
But it would be a mistake for the Lakers to write Kyle Kuzma off as a player who could be a difference maker in their championship run both because of his potential as a valuable rotation player or trading chip this offseason. Kuzma has too much talent to dismiss him as a bust and relegate him to the end of the bench. Instead, the Lakers need to give him a legitimate chance to shine in the upcoming scrimmages and regular season games.
There are good reasons why the Lakers need to save Kuzma from being the forgotten man. First, he’s finally 100% healthy after struggling all year with an unfortunate foot injury suffered trying out for Team USA this summer. Second, Kyle can return to playing his natural small forward position now that the Lakers have Markieff Morris to backup Anthony Davis at the four. Third, other than LeBron, Kuz is the only true wing on the Lakers’ roster.
Kuzma also showed signs of breaking through right before the season was suspended. In the Lakers’ weekend sweep of the rival Bucks and Clippers, he almost averaged a double-double with 9.5 points and 9.0 rebounds. While playoff minutes are going to be scarce, Kuzma could be the wild card on the roster if he could suddenly find his shot and confidence. Giving him an early shot in Orlando could entail minimal risks and major rewards.
Despite struggling with his three-point shot, Kuzma has remained engaged when on the floor and shown improved ability defending, rebounding, and playmaking. Kyle will also be looking for a new contract after next season. Like many Lakers players, the season restart represents a redemption opportunity to put a troubled year in the rear view mirror and show what kind of player he can be. This would be his first opportunity in the playoffs.
Kuzma knows this is could be his last chance to show the Lakers he can be part of their championship future. He’s surely been working hard on fixing his long range shooting and it’s in the Lakers’ interest to give him a last shot. The risks are minimal since they have already locked up the #1 seed in the Western Conference and the reward could be a talented young wing on a roster dominated by guards and bigs and an invaluable trading chip.
So, despite the talk about who’s going to replace Avery Bradley and how the three new players could be the wild cards, the Lakers would be smart to make sure they save Kyle Kuzma from becoming the forgotten man.