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Kyle Kuzma credits increased opportunity with Brandon Ingram out for recent improvement

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With Brandon Ingram out, Kyle Kuzma has had more freedom to make plays for himself and his Lakers teammates. He’s taken full advantage of those chances.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma has been a completely different player in recent weeks for the Los Angeles Lakers after a somewhat slow start to the season. His recent improvement has coincided with Brandon Ingram missing time due to a sprained ankle.

After practice Wednesday afternoon, Kuzma linked those two developments, saying that part of his newfound success was due to “just staying consistent in my work ethic,” but he also knows part is due to the extra opportunitis he’s gotten without Ingram.

“B.I. has been out, so that’s kind of helped me find my way a little bit. I’ve had the ball a little bit more in my hands to make plays,” Kuzma said.

To be absolutely clear here, this is in no way whatsoever Kuzma being thankful that Ingram got hurt. Any such speculation is unfair and intellectually dishonest, as well as offensive to the relationships teammates across this Lakers roster have developed not only this season, but in the years some have been together.

Kuzma clarified just that after talking about the increased opportunity he’s been taking advantage of with Ingram out.

“He’s improving every single day, hopefully he’ll be coming back soon,” Kuzma said.

Over the last three games without Ingram available, Kuzma has averaged 26.7 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game on 56.7 percent shooting from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range — increases across the board from his season-long averages.

On the season, in the 107 minutes that Kuzma has played with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, LeBron James and JaVale McGee as a unit, they’ve boasted a net rating of +10.7, meaning they’ve been outscoring opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions.

Since that lineup has become the starters over the last three games, they’ve outscored opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions. To compare, the starting lineup with Ingram in it has only posted a net rating of 0.2.

It’s still a relatively small sample size and there are several other factors potentially at work, but those are some loud numbers.

Interestingly enough, Kuzma’s numbers on the season have actually been mostly a wash, if not worse, with Ingram off the court than when they’ve played together. Even there though, not all of those minutes where Ingram is on the court also feature LeBron, and are largely weighed down by Kuzma’s slow start to the season when he was playing backup center.

Here’s the thing: When Ingram and Kuzma share the court with LeBron, they have to essentially wait for their turn for touches after James gets his. All that Kuzma is saying here is that with Ingram out recently, he’s had more touches to work with, allowing him to get in more of a rhythm with those opportunities.

It probably also helps knowing that he’s going to get those opportunities at all, which isn’t necessarily a guarantee when Ingram is healthy and the two are in the starting lineup together.

It obviously sucks that Ingram got hurt, and here’s hoping for a speedy and full recovery for him, but the point of this season is to find out who among the Lakers’ young core fits alongside LeBron. Maybe the numbers turn around after Ingram’s absence allows him to figure out a way to tweak his game to make that work better than it has, but the numbers thus far have screamed that he needs to be staggered as much as possible with James.

Some are obviously going to take Kuzma’s quotes out of context, but I think it was very insightful into the more human dynamic of how guys fit on an NBA court. Ingram is going to miss at least Thursday’s game against the Rockets, so it’ll be interesting to see whether a) Kuzma maintains this kind of production over that stretch and b) if that’s enough to convince the coaching staff to alter the rotation when Ingram returns.

The case to do so is becoming almost impossible to ignore.