Los Angeles — The Lakers won 35 games last season — mostly on the backs of their young players — before the arrival of LeBron James and their new motley crew of veterans over the summer. That’s below .500, but only just so, and Kyle Kuzma thinks the Lakers have shown that they’re not just LeBron James and his sidekicks since the star went down with his groin injury.
But like a wise man that Kuzma often takes inspiration from once demanded, the sophomore forward still wants more.
“We can do more as a young core and team. We’re not just one player,” Kuzma said after the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings for their first win without James this season.
The full potential of all of the Lakers’ main four youngsters was on display during the game. Brandon Ingram played what several members of the organization indicated was his best game of the season and Lonzo Ball kept the offense from getting stagnant, while Kuzma scored 18 points to go with 9 assists and 6 rebounds. Josh Hart was the cherry on top, pouring in 22 points of his own while helping out on the glass with 7 rebounds.
The game was one of the first this season that all the members of the Lakers’ young “core four” shined at once, and head coach Luke Walton wasn’t surprised that his young players are eager to prove the Lakers more than just James.
“They’re competitors,” Walton said. “We know that they compete and they play hard.”
“They showed a lot of guts tonight.”
The Lakers will have to continue to show those same guts for a while, because with James not yet having resumed basketball activities, they might be without their star for a few more games. But the Lakers are no strangers to dealing with absences due to injuries, as the young core probably would have been even closer to .500 — if not flirting with playoff contention outright — last season had they not had a few dings that knocked key players out of the lineup.
The Lakers have continued to show the same competitiveness they showed then without James now, and Kuzma doesn’t think the team was that far from being undefeated without him.
“We’ve just got to eliminate a few mistakes and we could have won all three games,” Kuzma said. “For us, it’s just about continuing to keep getting better and better, and when those guys [James and Rajon Rondo] get back, hit the ground running.”
If the Lakers keep up the rhythm and synchronization they started to show against the Kings moving forward, it’s not hard to imagine the team going on a bit of run when their own monarch returns to the lineup. For a stretch some in the organization appeared to internally believe might doom them, that’s not a bad outcome at all.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.