Despite having a short break, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are entering the upcoming season with an extra pep in their step. After all, they are the defending champions and they nicely bolstered the roster during free agency.
One Laker who’s probably in question, and might be lost in all of the excitement, is fourth-year forward Kyle Kuzma, who was once regarded as the future of the team but has now been relegated to a role player on the second unit.
Well, the good thing for Kuzma – at least for now – is he has one solid supporter in James, which, considering everything, is very important if he wants to remain within the Lakers’ bright lights.
Earlier this week, James, who’s not one to respond to anything on social media, much less retweet something that isn’t directed at him, gave a good endorsement for his fellow Laker.
It’s great that James has his support, but can Kuzma be actually good again?
Let’s first get into the reasons why he may NOT be able to.
It’s no secret that Kuzma isn’t generally popular among NBA fans anymore, and yes, that includes the rabid Laker fan base. He had an uneventful 2019-20 regular season to say the least and didn’t do any better in the playoffs.
He averaged 12.8 points per game in 25.0 minutes of play in the regular season and just 10 points in the posteason (8.5 PPG on 35.4% in the finals). Such a fall was unexpected when you look back to how promising he was in his first two years.
Kuz was seen as a solid steal in the now highly regarded 2017 draft class as he contributed beyond expectations right off the bat. He averaged 16.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 2.1 3PG during his rookie year, certainly not too shabby for a usually unheralded 27th overall pick.
The following year, with LeBron James joining the bunch, he increased his scoring to 18.7 PPG and finished second only to James. Though injuries derailed a postseason appearance, he looked like a fastly developing player and nice second fiddle behind The King.
Those are some of the reasons reason why he got spared from in the Anthony Davis trade, wherein the Lakers dealt key youngsters Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart alongside a handful of first-round picks.
Unfortunately, things kept going against Kuz from then on. He suffered a serious knee injury during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and it got him bumped off the starting lineup, instead of possibly forming a trio with James and Davis.
He missed the first four games of the 2019-20 season and that late start caused a struggle to build any rhythm and adjust to Davis changing the dynamic, which then permanently stuck him on the bench with fewer minutes and opportunities than in seasons past.
Fast forward to now, and the situation looks even bleaker for Kuzma to have a ‘redeem season.’ Aside from the two superstars, the Lakers have added a pair of more reliable offensive options: Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder, who just finished first and second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting, respectively.
Now, let’s get into the reasons why he might be able to – this will be short, though.
The one reason to believe that he can is the knee injury. What if he just needed a season where he has a low usage rate so he can heal? Let’s be reminded that he’s just 25 years old, and will be entering the prime stage of his body.
Also, even with all the talent after James and Davis, the third scorer role is still pretty much up for grabs. Fit-wise, Kuzma arguably has the upper hand over Scroder and Harrell since he has played with the team’s top dogs. Who knows? Maybe Schroder and Harrell will struggle to adjust.
Lastly, games like the one below are key proof that Kuz still has potential. He turned on the jets like he had an established momentum coming in. Note that it’s against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the better defensive teams last season.