Although it’s Friday, Los Angeles is still buzzing from a historic Tuesday night for Anthony Davis. Behind the Brow’s monstrous 40-point, 20-rebound spectacle, the Lakers improved to 3-1 on the season, and remain undefeated on their home court after notching consecutive blow-out wins (Their loss in their opener against the Clippers was technically a road game).
Any way you slice it, the team has done that impressive thing that good teams do in beating lesser competition even when not on their “A-Game.” And as their lackadaisical first halves over the last two games have shown, the Lakers are far from their sustained peak.
After playing with their food against the Hornets and Grizzlies, the Lakers thoroughly reared back and ignited that extra gear. While it’s definitely encouraging to see that ability being tapped when needed, it would be nice to see the team get off to better and quicker starts.
Through four games, Los Angeles has a net rating of -0.5 in their first halves and are a ridiculous +23.5 rating in their final frames. That habit will need to change, as they’re about to leave their home-court advantage behind and embark on their first road trip of the year, kicking off with a matchup against Dallas. The big news heading into the game with the Mavericks is the report that Kyle Kuzma will make his hotly anticipated season debut and be under a minutes restriction.
Kuzma, who had been sidelined with a stress reaction in his foot, was projected to be the team’s third leading scorer heading into the season. And although he’ll take some time to fully get back into game shape, he possesses a specific collection of skills that the team has noticeably lacked in his absence, and could help them get off to better starts.
For one, Kuzma has young legs, which is suddenly a rarity on the team after recent years of breakneck offense. Either by design or simply due to roster construction, the Lakers have taken the methodical approach when it comes to their scoring.
As of this article, the team is 24th in pace this season and 22nd in terms of transition frequency, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Kuzma’s ability to initiate early offense either by grabbing and going or simply sprinting down the court for the outlet should help add some youthful life and balance to the team's offense. It’s also an area of the game he has significant experience in, as possessions in transition accounted for 23.1% of his shot profile last season, according to Synergy — his highest frequency of any offensive play-type.
One thing that Kuzma may add to the Lakers is another transition ballhandler, something Frank Vogel sort of offhandedly mentioned the other day when specifying that he sees Anthony Davis as a "rebound-and-push guy" as well: pic.twitter.com/kx78Vh4Brl— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) November 1, 2019
With Frank Vogel likely keeping the starting lineup intact, Kuzma’s scoring punch off the bench will also be a welcome addition to the team. Especially given that although it’s been easily glossed over due to Davis’ outburst and the recent blow-outs, the bench has continued to struggle to put up points.
On the season, the Lakers’ reserves are shooting a mere 41.5% from the field and scoring just 29.5 points per contest, which is 26th in the league. While he has flaws, Kuzma can definitely put the ball in the basket, and could potentially thrive in a sixth-man role. It will be good for the team to begin the process of reintegrating him back into the lineup tonight.
This should be a fun one, and another good test as the Mavericks are also off to a good start behind their star duo: Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, who — like LeBron James and Davis — complement each other’s games pretty flawlessly.
In what will be a marquee bout between dueling Unicorns, a lot of eyes will appropriately be glued on Kuzma, as he could ultimately be the swing player for this game and going forward now that he's back in the fold.
While Kuzma’s return is definitely the biggest news on the injury front for the Lakers, it sounds like Davis “should be good to go” as well. That’s a relieving sign after he noticeably had issues with his shoulder in the team’s last contest.
The Lakers will take on the Mavericks at 6:30 p.m. PST on ESPN nationally, and Spectrum Sportsnet locally.