Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma embraces ‘next-man-up mentality’
LOS ANGELES – The end of the NBA offseason wasn’t kind to rising star, Kyle Kuzma. The Los Angeles Lakers forward was determined to improve his game this past summer while also representing his country playing for Gregg Popovich’s Team USA squad, but the foot injury cost him his chance to compete in China, and that carried over to the start of the 2019-20 NBA season.
Fortunately for Kuzma, he only missed four games to start the season. However, it did take a few games to get up to speed, and now he’s starting to show why the Lakers valued him enough to keep him out of the trade to bring Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, the Lakers played host to the Golden State Warriors without Davis, who is nursing a sore right shoulder. With Davis unable to go, the team turned to LeBron James and Kuzma to lead the way. Both players embraced the challenge with the three-year forward, making an impression yet again.
“He’s really stepped up the last two games,” Frank Vogel said of Kuzma. “It’s not really a surprise, we knew it was going to take a little bit of time [for him] to get into a rhythm and get his legs under him, but it seems to be coming along. Back-to-back great performances by him that gave us a great lift.”
Kuzma had an efficient night from the floor shooting going 7-for-12 from the field and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. He finished with 22 points in 31 minutes, and along with earning praise from his head coach, James had some kind words as well.
“He did a good job of taking the shots that were there, being aggressive, and it’s good,” LeBron said of Kuzma. “It’s good to just get him back in the rhythm. He’s going to be very key for our ball club.”
Although the Lakers went 3-1 without Kuzma to start the season, the up-and-comer returning gives them nights like these where they can have a superstar like Davis rest if need be. The Lakers forward is more than willing to help fill the void left by Davis or James as he approaches these situations with a certain mentality.
“We just have a next-man-up mentality,” Kuzma said. “We know that guys are going to take a few breaks this year. Some guys are going to get nicks and bruises. Last year we learned that injuries are huge, and credit to our training staff on doing a great job of monitoring people and making sure we’re all 100 percent and can play.”
In 23 minutes per contest in the seven games he’s played, Kuzma is averaging 13.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the floor. His three-point shooting leaves something to be desired at 28.6 percent, but his performance tonight (50%) and hitting clutch shots from beyond the arc against the Phoenix Suns could be a sign of that turning around.