When Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went down with an injury, Los Angeles Lakers power forward Kyle Kuzma earned the opportunity to start alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Danny Green when they faced the Denver Nuggets on Monday night. Kuzma didn’t waste the chance to prove to coach Frank Vogel that he belongs in the starting lineup, finishing the game with 25 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals on 68.8 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc. Also, with 0.4 seconds remaining in the game, he knocked down a clutch three-pointer that enabled the Lakers to walk away with a 124-121 victory.
Most people, including James, were impressed by Kuzma’s performance against Denver. In a recent interview with Dave McMenamin of ESPN, James said that Kuzma needs to establish the same level of performance in the upcoming 2020 Playoffs and become the team’s “third-best player” in order for the Lakers to fully dominate the Western Conference and win the NBA title.
“In order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player,” James said. “And if I’m struggling or AD’s struggling, he has to be our second-best player on any given night. It’s just, we can’t win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”
When the 2019-20 NBA season started, expectations were high on Kuzma. When the Lakers failed to acquire Kawhi Leonard in the 2019 free agency, most people viewed him as the third star that would help James and Davis carry the team to the top of the Western Conference and bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Kuzma failed to live up to expectations and was noticeably struggling to coexist with James and Davis on the court.
However, after a four-month hiatus, it seems like things have changed for the better for the Purple and Gold. If the trio of Kuzma, LeBron, and AD continue to improve their chemistry before the real battle begins in the postseason, the Lakers will undeniably become a tougher team to face in a best-of-seven series. Aside from being in much better shape, Kuzma also credited his increased production and confidence to the trust that is given to him by his teammates and coaches.
“It just shows that my teammates and my coaches, they trust in me,” Kuzma said. “The trust that they have in me. You know, every time that we ran that play in practice, I kind of hit the shot. So they kind of just went to me.”
While Caldwell-Pope is still recovering from an injury, Vogel is expected to continue using Kuzma as one of his starters. The Lakers’ next game will be against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night.