The LA Lakers (Los Angeles Lakers) locked in the first seed in the Western Conference as they now prepare for the NBA Playoffs this season after a win over the Utah Jazz in Orlando.
Anthony Davis had a monstrous game as he scored 42 points in 39 minutes along with 12 rebounds to outclass his fellow All-Star Rudy Gobert. LeBron James chipped in with 22 points, eight boards and nine assists in 35 minutes. As usual, it was the two LA Lakers superstars that carried the major bulk of the scoring, but that may not be enough come the playoffs.
The LA Lakers will have to turn to their bench when either of their stars has an off night, and that is when head coach Frank Vogel will look to their unofficial sixth man, Kyle Kuzma.
Kyle Kuzma could be crucial to LA Lakers' title hopes this season
The 25-year-old Kyle Kuzma is now into his third season with the LA Lakers. He was drafted by the team at #27 in the 2017 NBA Draft. Kuzma was the only young player retained by LA Lakers when the front office made a huge trade to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.
That, of course, suggests that the LA Lakers management and Le Bron James, both have faith in the young Kuzma. He is, no doubt, a talented scorer.
Kuzma had a breakthrough rookie season as he averaged 16.1 points per game (PPG) and made the NBA All-Rookie First Team, but there were question marks on his defensive and passing ability.
In his second season with LA Lakers, Kuzma averaged a pretty impressive 18.7 PPG over 70 games, but his defensive and passing abilities were still quite amiss.
Kuzma is known to be a confident player. He embraces the spotlight and delivers in clutch moments more often than not. This quality is going to have to stand out as the LA Lakers prepare for the post season.
The young player has had to change his role after Davis joined the LA Lakers. His minutes have dropped, and the youngster has had to adapt to coming off the bench.
However, the NBA restart post the lockdown seems to have benefitted Kuzma. He has looked very good on the defensive end as he held his own in one-on-one match ups with the likes of Pascal Siakam, Paul George and Kahwi Leonard.
Kuzma's awareness has improved too. He has managed to pick out his teammates with passes and takes high percentage shots.
For Kyle Kuzma to become an indispensable part of the LA Lakers team, it is important for him to become an all-round player. Early signs in the NBA restart seem to suggest that he is doing just that.
Kuzma had 16 points and seven rebounds against the Clippers in the first game in 32 minutes. Head coach Vogel showed a lot of faith in Kuzma in that game, and the latter came up big for the LA Lakers, with only James and Davis getting more minutes.
Kuzma followed up with a pretty impressive showing in LA Lakers' loss against the Raptors. He had 16 points again to go along with four rebounds in 28 minutes. Kuzma, however, struggled with his shot against the Jazz and only managed to notch up nine points in 25 minutes.
His performance was way below par against the Oklahoma City Thunder as well as LA Lakers were steamrolled 105-86. But to be fair, no one in the LA Lakers were up to the mark in that game. Kuzma featured for 27 minutes, the third highest once again behind James and Davis, and ended the night with ten points and just three rebounds of two of five shooting.
The LA Lakers suffered a setback during the lockdown when Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender and point guard, announced that he would opt out of the season due to personal reasons.
The 17-time champions were also hit by the news of veteran point guard Rajon Rondo breaking his thumb during practice that is likely to keep him out till the second round of the NBA playoffs, provided the LA Lakers make it there.
Hence, the onus has now fallen on the other players to deliver by covering those extra minutes (approximately 45 minutes between the two players).
Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma are expected to cover those minutes. The LA Lakers did manage to add Dion Waiters and JR Smith to their roster before the restart, but Kuzma is expected to get the bulk of minutes, so a lot of the scoring will fall on his shoulders.
Danny Green seems to have lost all confidence in his game since the NBA restart. A pure shooter, Green has been throwing up bricks from downtown. That means that Kuzma's offensive productivity is going to be vital coming off the bench as Green has been a perennial starter for LA Lakers.
Since the playoffs will be on neutral ground, there will be no hostile fans that could apply the pressure on Kuzma who anyway does not seem to be a player who is fazed.
The LA Lakers have struggled to find consistent scoring output from their other players. They have looked very poor from 3-point territory. Danny Green, Caldwell-Pope, Waiters and Smith, all specialist 3-point shooters, have not shot the ball well since the NBA restart.
Kuzma needs to be the one to take up the scoring responsibility as he is not only a good outside shooter but also has a very strong mid-range game to take on defenders. He can spread the floor in a pick and roll in order to try and free himself up off a screen.
He makes a high percentage of shots with his fade away jumpers when one-on-one against defenders. If Kuzma can turn up more often than not on the offensive end, LA Lakers will be tough to beat in a 7-game series as he is definitely the most potent scorer on this team after James and Davis.
LA Lakers are a very strong defensive outfit, and this will be crucial deep in the playoffs. If Kuzma keeps improving his off-the-ball defence as much as he has improved his on-the-ball defence after the restart, LA Lakers may not miss Bradley after all.
It will be very interesting to see how Kuzma does in his first ever NBA playoffs as LA Lakers push for NBA Championship #18. Whether it will be another title or bust for the Western Conference front runners remains to be seen, though.Published 06 Aug 2020, 17:01 IST