The Los Angeles Lakers are a medical ward doubling as a basketball team at this point, and it looks like Kyle Kuzma might be set to join the ranks of the team’s barely walking wounded.
Kuzma has missed the Lakers’ last two games with left foot peroneal tendinitis, and according to head coach Luke Walton, he may soon join LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball among the list of players the team has shut down for the year (via Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register):
Luke Walton said Kyle Kuzma will be re-evaluated when the team gets back to LA. With four games left, Walton said there's a possibility the medical staff will decide it's not worth it for him to return.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) April 2, 2019
There is really no reason for Kuzma to risk further injury by continuing to play and potentially jeopardize the opportunity for a healthy offseason, so shutting him now down would make some sense. And if this is it for Kuzma, it puts the capper on a polarizing sophomore campaign that featured him alternate between looking like the best fit next to LeBron of any of the young Lakers, and also maybe not as good of a shooter as previously hoped.
Kuzma’s (possibly final) averages for the 2018-19 campaign stand at 18.7 points and 2.4 assists on 45.6 percent shooting. Those are all upticks from his rookie averages, but only just so. However, his sophomore season also saw his rebounds decline, even if that was a somewhat-expected change with Brook Lopez no longer around to allow everyone else to feast on the boards with his selfless box outs.
More concerning was Kuzma’s 3-point percentage falling off a cliff, dropping from 36.6 percent to 30.3 percent, a worrying regression from a slightly above-average floor spacer to a downright bad one, especially for a player whose value is so dependent on his scoring.
Kuzma made strides as a defender — in part due to the Lakers’ coaches being smarter about the types of players they had him guard — but he still isn’t good enough at anything else to justify a ton of time on the floor if he’s not scoring at a high level.
Now, to be fair, part of Kuzma’s regression as a shooter was probably due to being forced to take on a bigger load than he was ready for in the absence of James, as he often looked like the perfect low-usage supplementary option while playing alongside James earlier in the season. Still, Kuzma will need to work on his shot selection in the offseason, and his 3-point shooting will need to tick back upwards if he’s going to be a net-positive for L.A. on the floor and provide the spacing they were so sorely missing this year.
Players have one-year aberrations in 3-point shooting sometimes, Walton’s offense didn’t always free up the best shots from behind the arc and Kuzma is only 23 years old right now. All of those are reasons to believe he can get better from where he is right now, as is his tireless work ethic. If this is it for him this season, though, the Lakers will need to hope that an improved version of Kuzma shows up at camp for his third season.
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