Last season, Anthony Davis missed nine games for the Los Angeles Lakers in the regular season. In seven of those games, Kyle Kuzma started in Davis’ place. The two games Kuzma didn’t start in Davis’ place, he was also unavailable for. Kuzma ended the season with nine starts.
This season, Kuzma started off as the spot starter for Davis, and he even started a few games alongside Davis, but that hasn’t been the case of late. In each of the last three games Davis has missed, Markieff Morris has gotten the started ahead of Kuzma, the latter of whom started the four games prior to that.
Before the Lakers tipped off against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, Frank Vogel explained his decision to move Kuzma back to the bench and start Morris.
“Kyle knows his role doesn’t change whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Vogel said. “We want him to be aggressive scoring the ball, crashing, but more importantly than aggressive scoring, aggressive reading. We want him to be in attack mode and take good shots just like everyone else on the team.”
Kuzma broke double figures in scoring (12 points) for the first time since being moved back to the bench on Sunday, which can be attributed to the fact that he hasn’t attempted nearly as many shots with the second unit. As a starter, Kuzma has averaged 12.9 field goal attempts per game this season. Off of the bench, he’s averaged 8.6 field goal attempts per game.
But unlike previous years, Kuzma isn’t concerned with how many games he’s starting or how many points he’s scoring — he just wants to do what he can to help the Lakers win.
“I have to control what I can control,” Kuzma said. “I can’t control if I start, come off the bench, shoot the ball, whatever. I just control what I can control, and that’s where I’m at right now.”
Ironically, the very same change in attitude that Morris noticed in Kuzma early on this season is what made Vogel comfortable moving Morris into the starting lineup. Fortunately for Kuzma, his role will be roughly the same when Anthony Davis returns from injury after the All-Star break. The same can’t be said for Morris, who was growing frustrated with his playing time before Davis was sidelined.
Having a role that’s subject to that much change isn’t ideal, but it comes with the territory of being a role player on a team with championship aspirations. Both Kuzma and Morris knew that when they signed their contracts last year, and they’re doing the best they can given the circumstances. Hopefully that doesn’t change for the worse as the season progresses.