Kyle Kuzma was game for the challenge, netting a season-high 36 points and showing the potential he has as a scorer while helping the Lakers take down an OKC squad that had won 11 of its past 13 games. The performance — his second consecutive start — was an encore to his 26-point outing the night before against the Dallas Mavericks.
Much of the trade speculation surrounding the Lakers has centered around Kuzma, who is the team’s most valuable trade chip if they hope to add a third star-type option to the mix.
Kuzma dispelled the thought that his name being mentioned in trade talk was a source of motivation for him to play well.
“Nah. That’s for y’all to talk about, I don’t really care,” Kuzma told reporters, via Spectrum SportsNet. “I’ve been through it multiple times, and obviously you see it, but it doesn’t even matter at this point.”
The Lakers have been reportedly engaged in trade discussions with multiple teams regarding a possible trade involving Kuzma, although it’s been acknowledged that it’d have to be a mighty haul for them to part ways with their young scorer.
Kuzma has Lakers Jared Dudley on his side, with the veteran calling him the key.
Kyle Kuzma Reveals Lakers Championship Motivation
Instead of pointing to the trade talk fueling his play, the 24-year-old Kuzma instead revealed to the multiple forms of motivation members of the Lakers have, which has led to their Western Conference leading 32-7 record.
“Everybody on this team has something to prove,” Kuzma said. “You know AD’s trying to win a ring, Bron’s trying to win in L.A., I’m trying to establish myself. … [Go] down the line — Dwight [Howard], redemption. Everyone’s got something. [Alex] Caruso [making a name for himself]. So we don’t take games lightly. … We want to go out and dominate every game. We don’t see why we can’t win every game.”
With James and Davis sidelined, there were plenty of shots available, with the duo combining to average around 40 shots per game. With less pressure to find success with a limited workload, Kuzma found his rhythm nicely.
“Lot of time, minutes, knowing where shots are gonna come,” Kuzma told The Athletic of the difference. “It’s a little bit easier to get in and take time to find that poise without having to force it.”
“A lot of people are trying to create sort of an issue, like, ‘What’s going on with Kuz?’ or ‘Why aren’t we getting more out of Kuz?’ and all that stuff. To me, it’s just a matter of time. Everybody just has to be patient, wait; it’s gonna continue to grow,” Vogel said. “The role’s gonna continue to grow, his comfort level’s gonna continue to grow and you’re gonna see performances like you saw tonight from him.”
Lakers Praised by Frank Vogel for ‘Next Man Up’ Mentality
The Lakers were underdogs and undermanned against the Thunder, with it being announced that both LeBron and Davis would be out. But the bench players stepped up and filled in brilliantly in the victory against the Thunder.
“Extremely proud and really extremely happy for the guys that — in particular like Quinn and Troy and Duds — that don’t play every night and they have to stay ready which is a difficult assignment when you’re not practicing and when games are going by and you’re not playing,” Vogel said. “For those guys to stay ready and come in and contribute at the level that they did tonight… all three of them played fantastic and were a big part of the win.
But really happy for everybody having a next man up mindset with our two big guns out and Danny out. First quarter, our guys came out on fire. Playing with great energy, great pace, and a great defensive proficiency and just a solid win for our guys.”
Next up for the Lakers is a Monday matchup against the Cavaliers.