Since the Los Angeles Lakers restarted their season in July, Kyle Kuzma has quickly gone from just part of the rotation to becoming one of the most important players on the team going into the NBA playoffs.
In the seven seeding games Kuzma played before the start of the postseason, he averaged 15.4 points on 46.3% shooting from the field, including 44.4% shooting from behind the arc, while averaging 15.4 minutes per game. Kuzma wasn’t nearly as efficient from the field in his postseason debut on Tuesday, but he still ended the game with 14 points and 8 rebounds, and was one of four players on the Lakers to post a positive plus-minus (+6). Dwight Howard (+7), Alex Caruso (+12) and Markieff Morris (+12) were the others.
Kuzma’s recent production, in conjunction with the Lakers’ bad habit of starting games off slowly, has led to fans calling for the third-year forward to be inserted in the starting lineup, where he spent 97.1% of his games last season.
But while Kuzma believes he’s a starter, he thinks he can help the team win games regardless of how big his role is.
“Me being confident, I’m saying yes,” Kuzma said of being a starter. “But I’m not the coach. I’m just a player, so I just kind of do whatever they ask me to do. That’s my job: just starring my role, playing with effort and enthusiasm, and if they call on me to start, then obviously, you’ve seen what I’ve done and what I do. I just come in and try to be myself, play fun and play free-spirited.”
Kuzma has started just nine games for the Lakers this season, but he’s been productive in almost every one of them, averaging 20.9 points per game on 49.7% shooting from the field, including 36% from 3-point territory. His individual plus-minus has also been 5.7 points better with the starters, which is impressive when you consider almost all of his starts came when Anthony Davis was sidelined.
But as strong of a case as Kuzma as made for himself to be included in Frank Vogel’s starting lineup, Vogel is happy with the group he used in the Lakers’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
“It’s appropriate when needed,” Vogel said of re-evaluating the starters. “In any series, against any team, it will always be something that I consider and evaluate based on a certain matchup. The way you start throughout the course of the season isn’t always how you stay throughout a seven-game series, but as the No. 1 seed and the team with the best record in the West, I have confidence in the lineup that we have.
“But I’ll continue to evaluate that stuff game-to-game, just like we would in any playoff series.”
So, barring a last-minute change of heart from Vogel, the Lakers will start Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee again on Thursday. If the Lakers lose again due to a slow start, that should change in Game 3.