The Los Angeles Lakers have announced that Anthony Davis will sit out of Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks to recover from the gluteus maximus contusion he suffered against the New York Knicks on Tuesday. This marks the third game he’s missed this season. He was previously listed as questionable.
With Davis out, Kyle Kuzma will start, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, confirming what head coach Frank Vogel said at practice on Thursday. Kuzma has only started one other game this season, and Davis was sidelined for that game, too. Kuzma has struggled as of late, shooting 33.3% from the field over the last five games, including 28% shooting from behind the arc, but there’s reason to believe he’ll look better with the starting lineup.
For starters (no pun intended), Kuzma will be the No. 2 option on offense next to LeBron James like he was for most of last season. The two-man lineup of James and Kuzma has posted a +17.7 net rating in 385 minutes together — an improvement from the +2.9 net rating they posted in 1,445 minutes together last year. What’s arguably more notable, though, is that he’ll likely spend less time on the floor with two dominant ball-handlers in Rajon Rondo and James.
The most-used lineup featuring Kuzma has also featured Rondo and James, which has forced Kuzma to be more of a spot up 3-point shooter. While that’s a valuable skill for Kuzma to have, his talent as a scorer is maximized when he’s able to handle the ball and create his own shot. With one of Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Alex Caruso starting at point guard, Kuzma will likely default to having the second-highest usage.
Whether the plan is to keep Kuzma around or trade him before the deadline, the Lakers have to get the most out of Kuzma while Davis is out if they want to keep their spot at the top of the Western Conference. Following Friday’s game, they’ll travel to Oklahoma City to take on the surging Thunder.
If Kuzma looks like the player the Lakers expected him to be going into the season, both games should be competitive. If not, Kuzma may have more to worry about than just breaking out of a shooting slump.