On Tuesday, Markieff Morris will likely make his debut for the Los Angeles Lakers. Morris signed with the Lakers on Sunday with the expectation that he’d be the team’s primary backup power forward, the role Kyle Kuzma has played this season.
While Morris’ arrival could mean a drop in minutes for Kuzma, it’s more likely that Kuzma will play down a position and fill the void behind LeBron James at the small forward position. Kuzma has played just 4% of his minutes at the 3 this season, according to Basketball Reference, but after the Lakers’ win against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Kuzma said that he actually prefers to play out on the perimeter.
“I feel like I’m a wing,” Kuzma said. “I’m the most comfortable offensively and defensively being a wing. When I have the ball in my hands, I’m able to play off of pick-and-rolls, playmake, chase guys off screens and what not. I feel like that’s where I’m most comfortable.”
Morris feels like his addition will allow Kuzma to play there more:
Markieff said he thinks he can be an X-factor for this team, and that his presence will allow Kyle Kuzma to "play his natural position at the three."— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) February 25, 2020
Kuzma has been miscast as a stretch-4 this season, with 51.5% of his shot attempts coming after zero dribbles, including 32.5% of his 3-point attempts. While having the ability to make catch-and-shoot 3-pointers is a valuable skill, it’s not one that Kuzma has, as he’s drained just 35.7% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts this season.
With an actual stretch-4 in Morris, who’s shooting 39.7% from behind the arc this season, Kuzma will be able to get back to what he does best on offense, which is taking on his defender one-on-one and beating him with his textbook footwork and creative shot-making ability. The space that Morris will create with his 3-point shooting will also allow Kuzma to find the gaps in the defense, something he’s had success doing in the past.
The big question is whether Kuzma can hold his own on the other end.
Standing at 6’8”, Kuzma has the size to defend bigger wings, but in the past, he’s struggled to stay in front of them. Luckily, Kuzma’s made strides in that regard this season — so much so that his head coach, Frank Vogel, feels comfortable throwing him on elite wings like Jayson Tatum.
“I think he’s good guarding wings, and in particular isos,” Vogel said after Sunday’s game. “That’s one area where Kuz can use his athleticism, especially against a thinner guy. Sometimes Kuz, with bigger bodies, can get bumped off, but against [Jayson] Tatum he did a really good job tonight and he’s shown that throughout the season — in certain matchups — that he can keep a guy in front of him and use his length to contest.”
If Kuzma can slow down the other team’s best wing on a consistent basis, the minutes that the Lakers play without LeBron James are going to be easier to push through going forward. Hopefully, he and Morris will show encouraging signs against Brandon Ingram and the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.