(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Kyle Kuzma emerging as the top number two option
By Chris Camello (@Chris_Camello)
The injury bug bit LeBron James during the first half of the Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors with a strained groin. One day later it was another right hand surgery for Rajon Rondo, the catalyst for that beatdown over the Warriors.
With the Lakers down their two best players, the young core knew it was going to be tough to stay afloat, but thatís the hand they were dealt. When they lost arguably their second best scorer to a bruised back in the second half of their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, there must have been a sinking feeling.
Sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma is averaging around 19 points and 6 rebounds a game while shooting 47 percent from the floor this season. However, itís not just the numbers that stand out for Kuzma; itís the confidence and swagger he plays with.
The ďstealĒ of the 2017 draft believes heís not only one of the best players on the Los Angeles Lakers, but one of the best players in the league. Every night he steps out on the floor, Kuzma never lacks confidence, energy, or effort. Yes, he could be streaky but if he hits one shot, thatís all he needs to spark his game.
When he missed two and a half games, the Lakers were sorely missing those qualities and it showed in their disappointing losses to the Thunder, New York Knicks (both home games), and rout at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
While we all acknowledge Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball have a lot of talent, they are still raw in many ways and still developing. Their quiet personalities have at times translated to both being passive and lacking aggression and confidence offensively.
Even head coach Luke Walton pointed that out after the Lakersí loss to the Wolves, stating both Ingram and Ball needed to play with ďmore fire and passion.Ē
When Kuzma returned to the lineup Monday night in Dallas, he didnít shoot the ball well, but he was aggressive and his impact could be felt by his teammates which led them to a much-needed win over the Mavs.
That momentum was taken back to LA where they faced the Detroit Pistons and Kuzma went off scoring a career-high 41 points through three quarters. Itís also worth noting he played solid defense against Blake Griffin holding him to 16 points on 14 shots and no rebounds.
On a squad that has played hot potato with the ďRobinĒ role this season, Kuzma has clearly begun to establish himself as the second best player next to LeBron James.
With the struggles and inconsistencies of Ingram and Ball, some decisions could have to be made by execs Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka about how to land another star player using those two as coveted trade assets.
You never want to overreact after a rough stretch without James and Rondo; however, itís becoming clear that Kuzma is looking like a keeper and the others more expandable.
With James, Kuzma, and potentially another star player, the Lakers would have a great foundation for years to come and seriously vie for a championship.