As odd as it might seem, given how talented the various NBA wings are in 2019, the Los Angeles Lakers are pretty hilariously thin at that spot, and that’s before Kyle Kuzma went down for the first week or so of the season with a stress reaction in his foot.
While they’ve been able to make it work to the tune of three wins and one loss so far, they’ll still need to fill out that position in order to compete at the league’s highest levels. LeBron James certainly seems to agree with this, too:
LeBron on Kyle Kuzma, who he said practiced today: “He looks like Kuz, but it’s going to take him a little bit of time to get into game shape ... (there’s no substitute for playing actual NBA games) ... it’s great to have him back on the floor, we definitely missed him.”— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 31, 2019
In the Lakers’ one loss, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope spent an inordinate amount of time guarding Kawhi Leonard. It did not go well.
While Danny Green had some success guarding Leonard, had he spent more time on that assignment, that might’ve taken away from the incredible shooting night he enjoyed.
In the Lakers’ biggest games this year and moving forward, they’ll have to deal with Leonard, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant when he returns from injury and other elite wings. Caldwell-Pope and Green would not suffice alone in those spots.
So, in steps Kuzma, and while he obviously isn’t going to make a name for himself on the defensive end (and shouldn’t be expected to), he will be a legitimate NBA player at arguably the league’s most valuable position.
Getting Kuzma back into the rotation allows for the four-out lineups Frank Vogel has employed this season to also have a little more length on the perimeter. When Anthony Davis goes to the five in big moments and James slips down to the four, Kuzma can operate at the three and keep Green at his natural position while also spacing the floor in ways that Caldwell-Pope hasn’t thus far.
Yes, all this is purely theoretical (especially considering how relatively disappointing Kuzma’s shooting was last year), but the path to him doing well is pretty easy to chart. Just hit open threes, defend at a league-average level, finish in transition and maintain his current off-ball cutting instincts and voila, he’d immediately become the Lakers’ third- or fourth-best player.
And if he does all that while at times operating as a secondary creator, then he’d be taking the leap that the Lakers seem to really believe he’s capable of and the team’s ceiling gets even higher.
But none of that was possible with him out due to injury. Now, he’s back, and as James said, the Lakers are thrilled to add him to the rotation.