Losing Larry Nance Jr. to a broken hand was a blow to the depth the Los Angeles Lakers had at power forward, but it also created an opportunity for the team to get promising rookie Kyle Kuzma into the team’s starting lineup alongside Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram.
Kuzma responded with 17 first-half points before finishing with an efficient 21 points on 11 shots in the team’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. The team’s offense was efficient as well, as the 107.9 offensive rating it put up was its fourth-highest of the season.
Kuzma’s performance left veteran frontcourt partner Brook Lopez impressed. “He’s just so talented,” Lopez said. “He has that talent and his confidence is there. It is a great combination for him to have and he has taken this chance and he has really grasped it.”
Kuzma’s fellow rookie Lonzo Ball also raved about what the No. 27 pick brought to the starting unit.
“It is a new look. He sets the screen, he can roll and he can pop so he has the three-point shooting and he definitely spaces the floor for us,” Ball said. “It is a new element and it definitely helps us out.”
Kuzma’s shooting has regressed a bit after a flame-spewing start to Las Vegas Summer League and NBA preseason, as he’s now shooting just 33.3 percent from three-point range. That’s still good enough for fourth on a Lakers team that is last in three-point percentage in the entire league.
That allows him to help the Lakers spacing, as does his willingness to fire away, something Julius Randle and Nance don’t really bring to the Lakers from the power forward position. NBA defenses are smart, but Kuzma is good enough and willing enough to shoot that they’ll still close out hard on him or stick near him behind the arc.
Kuzma is only going to continue to get better as his career moves along, even though he’s an older rookie. If his 3-point stroke ticks up just a little bit and the rest of his game keeps incrementally improving, his start against the Nets definitely won’t be his last. It might actually just be his role moving forward for the next few years if he keeps seizing the moment like he did Saturday.
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