When Kawhi Leonard spurned the Los Angeles Lakers to team up with Paul George across the hall, many wondered who the Lakers’ third star would be alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And as the off-season lingered, it became clear that Kyle Kuzma would have to develop into that role for the Lakers to reach their ultimate goal this season.
Kuzma has had a rough start to his year, missing much of the beginning of the season due to an injury suffered during the Team USA basketball pre-World Cup exhibition tour. Since returning to play, the third-year pro has struggled shooting the ball, an important dynamic as he stands to play nearly all of his minutes alongside at least one of James and Davis.
On Tuesday, Kuz turned a corner in his development, coming up huge in a nail-biter win on the road against the much-improved Suns. The forward dropped 23 points on 9-16 shooting along with four rebounds in his 25 minutes. Notably, his 13 points in the first quarter kept the Lakers afloat while the Suns took an early lead and his two clutch 3-pointers (he was 3-6 on the night) effectively sealed the game.
Kuzma’s big game did not go unrecognized, of course, as both James and Davis took time both immediately after the game and during the media scrums to speak highly of the 24-year-old.
LeBron and AD hyping up Kuz after his big game. Kuz had 23 points on 9-16 (3-6 3PTA) in only his fifth game back. pic.twitter.com/v5m3Dn6K5F
— UnwrittenRules (@UnwrittenRul3s) November 13, 2019
Following quotes via the LA Times’ Tania Ganguli.
Davis had this to say to his frontcourt partner: “I just told him, ‘Welcome back.’ He came up huge for us, made some big shots time after time. We were so happy for him.”
James issued a more analytical statement about how Kuzma found himself in rhythm all night: “Only a matter of time and it came at the right time. It was great to have the Kuz that we know he’s capable of… He attacked early in transition. He was really good using his Euros to his floaters, using his speed.”
Coming into the game, Kuzma was just 6-of-30 on 3-point attempts this season as he struggled to get his legs underneath him. Now in better game shape and with more playmaking alongside him on bench lineups (Rajon Rondo had a great game of his own in his season debut), the Lakers will be hoping for more of the Kuzma they saw on Tuesday night.