The Los Angeles Lakers finally broke out in the bubble on Monday, winning a thrilling contest against the Denver Nuggets. It wasn’t the team’s best performance of the season, noticably struggling on the defensive end, but their offensive woes seemed to finally end and they managed to break a three-game losing streak on the back of a Kyle Kuzma game-winner with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
After the game, LeBron James had a strong statement to make about his 25-year-old teammate:
LeBron on Kuz: "In order for us to win a championship he has to be our third best player.” He added that if LeBron or AD doesn’t have it going, Kuz has to be the second best player.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) August 11, 2020
So far in Orlando, Kuzma has been just that. After a tumultuous third season in the NBA which saw him struggle with his efficiency, Kuz appears to have found his role for this team as a 3-and-D hybrid wing that can put the ball on the floor when necessary to put pressure on a defense.
In seven bubble games, Kuzma has averaged 15.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while hitting 44 percent of his threes. It has been a nice flashback to his rookie season where he enamored everyone with his complete offensive repertoire but now coupled with a level of defensive aptitude that just wasn’t part of his game before.
One of the Lakers’ strengths all year has been role players stepping up in different situations. You could have made a case at any point for Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or Alex Caruso for being the third most impactful player on the team. The next man up mentality has been an asset of Frank Vogel’s squad but having a consistent third player who can produce night in and night out and potentially up his game if one of James or Anthony Davis is struggling is an even bigger asset for a team with championship hopes. Kuzma is going from being one of the more forgotten members of the rotation to one of its biggest keys in bringing home a 17th NBA championship.