James and Kuzma have already played together and were successful when they did so last season, outscoring their opponents by 2.9 points per 100 possessions in the 1,445 minutes they played together. Davis and Kuzma, on the other hand, haven’t had the chance to share the floor yet because Kuzma’s stress reaction kept him out of the preseason, too.
However, it sounds like Davis has already seen enough from Kuzma in their brief time together to be confident in his ability to help the team. After practice on Thursday, Davis told reporters that he expects Kuzma to make an impact on both ends of the floor upon his return (via Lakers.com):
”He’s able to score the basketball (and) defend. He’s a big part of our team and what we’re trying to do and trying to accomplish. It’s good for him. He wanted to be a part of it so bad, and now he has a chance to come back tomorrow and be a part of it. We’re only getting better by adding him.”
In Kuzma, the Lakers are getting a player that can go off for 20 points on any given night. Last season, Kuzma averaged 18.7 points per game — second to only LeBron James on the team — and had seven games with more than 30 points during that time, including a career-high 41 points.
Davis thinks Kuzma will just as big of a threat this season because of how many offensive weapons he’ll be sharing the court with:
”With his scoring ability, his ability to draw defenders’ eyes, he’s going to take pressure off of everyone. That’s why we’re so excited to have him back. We can put Kuz on the floor and know he can go get a bucket for us and also be able to defend on the other end. It’s a good problem to have, we have a lot of guys who can score the basketball, create for themselves and when you have that, it takes a burden off everyone’s shoulders.”
But as much as Kuzma is expected to help on offense, the jury is still out on what he can provide on defense. Last season, Kuzma posted a defensive rating of 109.7, which was actually worse than the 107.5 points per 100 possessions the Lakers gave up while he was on the floor during his rookie season, despite all of the hoopla about his growth on the defensive end.
Despite this, Davis believes that Kuzma actually makes the Lakers better on defense:
”He can guard 1-4, he definitely adds a lot to our defense, adds a lot to our offense... We can go with a tall lineup where we have me, ‘Bron and Kuz on the floor. 3, 4 and 5 and throw like Danny (Green) and (Rajon) Rondo or whoever else is going to be at the point. So we have a lot of options now that we have Kuz... That’s the most exciting part.”
It’s true that having another big body out on the wing will help the Lakers, especially when they face a team that’s stacked at the forward position like the LA Clippers, but just how much he’ll help is dependent on the work he put in over the summer.
If Davis’ endorsement of Kuzma’s work ethic means anything, Kuzma might be primed for his most productive season yet:
”He works extremely hard. He worked his ass of to get back every day. Before practice, after practice. He’s one of those guys you have to pull off the floor. He’s been doing a great job with coach Phil (Handy) on adding to his game, staying in the weight room and getting stronger, making sure his foot is okay... The more I see him work, the more he inspires me, because seeing a guy work that hard — and knowing what he wants — makes us want to go out there and go even harder.”
Kuzma and Davis will take the floor against the Dallas Mavericks at 6:30 p.m. PST.