Due to the groin injury that has sidelined LeBron James for close to a month, the Los Angeles Lakers have had to rely once again on the young players they had previously acquired via the rookie draft. These players include second-year forward Kyle Kuzma, who is coming off two consecutive 32-point outings for the Lakers and is averaging almost 25 points over the last 10 games. As the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kuzma entered the league with much less fanfare than former No. 2 overall picks Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, but as it currently stands, a former league executive recently opined that he has quietly become the most valuable youngster on the Lakers’ lineup.
As pointed out on Saturday by Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, the Lakers’ plan remains the same as it has been since they acquired James via free agency in the summer of 2018 — to team him up with a second superstar player. While Pincus opined that Kuzma could play such a role over time, he stressed that the Lakers appear more interested in landing a proven veteran free agent, such as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, or Kawhi Leonard, or trading for the New Orleans Pelicans’ All-NBA forward/center, Anthony Davis.
All in all, Pincus wrote that it’s more important than ever for the Lakers’ younger, more promising players to step up, as they can help the team in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, provide support to a secondary superstar player in the 2019-20 season, or be used as a trade piece in order to acquire Davis. Out of these players, Kyle Kuzma could be the most important, as opined by an unnamed former NBA general manager who spoke to Bleacher Report.
“He’s a legitimate scorer that fits the modern NBA perfectly. Kuzma has the highest value of the [Lakers’ young prospects]. He’s the most proven.”
Despite his praise for Kuzma, the unnamed ex-GM added that the former University of Utah forward has some areas for improvement, including his defense and his inconsistency from beyond the three-point line. On the other hand, he added that Kuzma is capable enough when tasked to defend power forwards and centers who aren’t scoring threats.
Kyle Kuzma scored 20 points in a red-hot first quarter and Brandon Ingram had 11 in overtime, but it wasn't enough in Houston.https://t.co/g7JzUwV8n7
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 20, 2019
The former NBA GM also offered his thoughts on Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both of whom have also played bigger roles for the Lakers in LeBron James’ absence. For the most part, the executive praised Ball for his defensive acumen and his ability to lead the Lakers’ transition game, but echoed a common concern regarding the second-year point guard, telling Bleacher Report that he needs to improve his shooting. He was less complimentary, however, when it came to Ingram, as he criticized the third-year forward’s “inefficiency and style of play.”
“I respect the scoring ability, but he doesn’t separate with a live ball and hasn’t shown to be a consistent three-point shooter,” the ex-GM commented.
“Defensively he’s brutal, and with his style of play and lack of shooting, I’m probably lowest on him.”
Considering how Kyle Kuzma has posted the best numbers among the Lakers’ young prospects during their 11-game stretch without LeBron James, Bleacher Report‘s Pincus noted that the 23-year-old combo forward has become the youngster whom Los Angeles “should make every effort to keep.” While he acknowledged that Kuzma’s recent performance has also made him more desirable to rival teams, Pincus again cited the same ex-general manager, who posited that the Lakers would still have the third most attractive offer in the Anthony Davis trade sweepstakes, assuming the Philadelphia 76ers offer Ben Simmons and the Boston Celtics make their young players and future draft picks available.