Anthony Davis took a scary fall on Tuesday against the New York Knicks and the initial fear was that the Lakers star would miss at least the next two games with a back injury. However, further examination revealed that Davis suffered a less serious gluteus maximus contusion and will travel with the team to take on the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of a back-to-back on Friday. Davis is currently listed as questionable to play.
If Davis decides he needs more time to rehab, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters after practice on Thursday that he plans to start Kyle Kuzma is Davis’ place (via Lakers.com):
“Obviously he’s a big factor in everything that we do, so we would have to compete to win the game differently, but it’s a great opportunity to step into the starting lineup and play a bigger role.”
Kuzma has started just one game this season, and it was in one of the two games Davis has missed this season. Kuzma likely would have started in the other game, too, but he was dealing with an injury of his own.
But while Kuzma has only started once this season, Vogel doesn’t expect there to be a be a big adjustment for the third-year forward — mostly because Vogel doesn’t want Kuzma to do anything out of the ordinary:
“For Kuz, it’s not going to be really any different than what we’re asking him to do throughout whatever role he’s in, whether he’s coming off the bench or stepping into the starting role. We want him to be aggressive, looking to score, but have a mindset like the rest of the team to make the right play. But the more minutes he gets, the more opportunities he’s going to have to impact the game.”
Kuzma has struggled from the field this season — especially in the last five games, where he’s shot a lowly 33.3% — but overall, playing the right hasn’t been an issue for Kuzma, according to Vogel:
“I think he thinks about it out a little too much at times, but for the most part I’m happy with where he’s at and he’s going to continue to get his legs under him and find his way in what is a very different role for him this year than he was in last year. I’m happy with what Kuz is bringing to the table for us.”
The biggest difference for Kuzma — assuming he starts — could also be the biggest help to him, and that’s the personnel around him. While Kuzma has spent a good amount of time playing with James and Davis, he has spent just 11 minutes with the five-man lineup of him, James, Davis, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee. In those 11 minutes, that lineup has posted a net rating of +59.4.
Additionally, Kuzma has spent over 100 more minutes with Rondo and James than he has with Bradley and James, so it will be interesting to see how Kuzma looks when James is the primary facilitator and he’s the secondary option on offense. With the second unit, Kuzma isn’t given the freedom to handle the ball, which is unfortunate because his ability to play on the ball is what makes him more valuable than a traditional stretch four like Jared Dudley.
Regardless of whether or not Davis plays, the Lakers need to figure out how to maximize Kuzma’s talents before they decide to move on from him, because the last thing they need is for yet another one of their young players to look better under the supervision of another organization. If the plan is for them to sell high on Kuzma, then they might as well give him the opportunity to show what he can do.