The Athletic’s Shams Charania is reporting that Kyle Kuzma will make his season debut in the Lakers matchup with the Mavericks on Friday. The Lakers have mostly played coy when it comes to an exact date Kuzma would be back, but Kuz himself seemingly endorsed Charania’s report on twitter Wednesday:
It’s easy to argue the Lakers have not necessarily missed Kuzma too much this year. Winners of 3 straight games and possessing a top-10 offense, the Lakers currently are 1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the conference, and possessors of the NBA’s best net rating. Further, the team’s bench unit1A bench unit Kuzma would presumably be a part of., though having players who are up and down individually, are playing like a group greater than the sum of its parts with good stretches each game that either earn or extend leads.
Arguing this, however, would be a mistake. The Lakers have missed Kuzma. They’ve missed his scoring. They’ve missed his size, particularly on the wing defensively. They’ve missed his shot creation — both for himself and for teammates. They’ve also missed all the little things he does really well on offense — cutting, the understanding of spacing, the secondary ball handling, the ability to generate pace either with the ball or on the wing.
Kuzma, you see, can play. I get that there’s skepticism around Kuz. I’ve been skeptical myself, after all. The flaws Kuzma has shown in his first two seasons have been real: shot selection selection and, more generally, pass/shot decisions and his defensive attentiveness and technique (particularly at the point of attack) stand out here. That said, there’s a notion among some of the more vocal critics that Kuzma’s popularity or reputation is almost entirely a product of him being a member of the Lakers and the benefits that come with that.
This is where I push back. Because for all of Kuzma’s flaws or for all the LakersHypeMachine (that can be very real), Kuzma is a 6’9″ skilled combo forward who shows very good offensive skill and an intense desire to get better. Kuzma is, above everything else, a worker. Forget the TV appearances or the magazine covers or the IG posts or the talk radio hits. Kuzma is in the gym. And he’s getting better. This, I truly believe.
Beyond all this, though, the Lakers simply need him. One of the things the Lakers have been sorely missing is a bigger wing-type of player who can be slotted next to and behind LeBron to provide scoring punch and draw some defensive attention away from the smaller Lakers wings who are more dependent on teammates to help them be effective. I believe Kuzma can be that exact player and not just because he says so. The tape on him tells me so.
Kuzma’s return, then, could not come at a better time. While many have argued the Lakers schedule isn’t exceedingly difficult to start the year, those opinions were based on preseason expectations and do not necessarily reflect reality. Yes, the Lakers just beat the Hornets and the Grizzlies, but their next 5 opponents are the Mavericks, Spurs, Bulls, Heat, and Raptors. This group include only one sub-.500 team (Chicago). The other 4 teams, as of this writing, only have three combined losses in 15 games. And 3 of these games are on the road.
Considering the schedule, the skills that Kuzma offers, the need to integrate him into the lineup sooner than later, and the fact that he could be on a minutes limit as he gets back up to game speed and conditioning, the timing really is great. He can get reps in vs. teams who are proving to be quality opponents (and who have some real matchups he could help with) and also not be leaned on too heavily as the team continues to find its way in carving out rotations centered on and around LeBron and Anthony Davis.