What Kyle Kuzma’s Return Means For Lakers
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers have started the 2019-20 NBA season with a 3-1 record and look to be one of the best teams in the league thanks in large part to the All-Star duo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James.

However, despite the team’s success, they haven’t been at full strength, missing both Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo due to injury.

That’s going to be changing as Kuzma is making his Lakers debut when they play the Dallas Mavericks. He had been dealing with a stress reaction in his left foot suffered during his time with Team USA.

Kuzma’s return not only puts the Lakers closer to full strength but it also gives them a key skillset they have been badly missing. With a lack of true wing players to call upon, head coach Frank Vogel has resorted to using guards like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to slide down to the small forward position and occasionally even power forward for short stretches.

While the speed of those lineups may have some appeal, it’s clear the team needs a player who has a bit more defensive versatility to fill that role. They have struggled with larger wing players and while Kuzma hasn’t been known for his defensive chops during his two-year NBA career, it’s an area of the game he has diligently worked on.

His length should allow him to contest better against true wing players as long as his lateral quickness hasn’t suffered to the point where he can’t keep opponents in front of him. Kuzma also provides some extra help on the boards for the second unit where he will presumably team up with Dwight Howard.

Offensively, the Lakers can certainly use Kuzma’s floor spacing and knack for cutting off the ball. While he only shot 30 percent from three in his second season, the belief is that he is a better shooter than that number indicates and has spent considerable time fine-tuning his shot.

Based on his limited play with Team USA, it appeared that Kuzma had improved on both sides of the ball by simplifying his game to focus on playing smart defense, knocking down open threes, and making smart cuts off the ball.

With two All-Star players on board in Los Angeles, Kuzma’s ability to cut to the rim should pay immediate dividends. James generated more assists by passing to Kuzma than any other Laker last season and their connection should give their offense an even higher ceiling.

It’s going to take some time to knock the rust off, but Kuzma’s return may be just what the Lakers need.