There is no doubt that, as the Lakers have improved over the last two seasons, the odd man out has been forward Kyle Kuzma. He averaged 18.7 points per game in his second season, 2018-19, when the Lakers got LeBron James but before they traded for Anthony Davis. But that fell to 12.8 points per game last year when he was moved to the bench and has dropped farther—10.9 points heading into Thursday’s game—this season.
And, according to ex-NBA veteran and analyst Kendrick Perkins, the fault for that falls squarely on the Lakers and head coach Frank Vogel. No matter how well the Lakers have played, Perkins sees Kuzma as an important factor in getting better.
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“The biggest key is Kyle Kuzma,” Perkins said. “They have to figure out what are they gonna do with Kyle Kuzma, how they’re gonna play him, what role is he going to play and break it down to him. Because there’s still times I am watching the Los Angeles Lakers and he still looks lost.”
Kyle Kuzma’s Role Discussed Often in Preseason
The intricacies of Kuzma’s role with the Lakers were the subject of much discussion before the season began, with Kuzma saying he was uncertain of his role on the team and Vogel having a talk with him about it.
Vogel seems to understand that Kuzma is in a difficult position, assigned to come off the bench with the second unit, but called up into the starting five very often when a Lakers starter needs to miss a game.
“The No. 1 thing with Kuz in terms of this team is to bring energy on both ends of the floor,” Vogel said in December, per The Athletic. “He knows what we’re asking him to do with regard to offensively, being more aggressive in catch-and-shoot situations, playing through him some but also complementing Bron and AD and continuing to grow on the defensive end. That much is clear to him.
“Where he’s going to fall in terms of starting role or coming off of the bench is still to be determined and will likely be fluid throughout the year.”
It’s not easy being the guy whose role is fluid, especially when you want to prove yourself worth of the three-year, $40 million contract extension that Kuzma got this offseason.
Still, Kuzma has not been so bad this year, even if his scoring is off. He has been a better defender and his plus/minus this year has been the best of his career—a plus-10.4 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com. His previous high was plus-5.7 last year.
When LeBron and Kuzma have shared the floor this year (124 minutes) the Lakers have a DRtg of 89.7, best in the league for a 2 man pairing that has played together for at least 100 minutes.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) January 6, 2021
Kuzma is not getting numbers, but the Lakers are playing well when he is on the floor. So far, at least.
Frank Vogel Needs to ‘Figure Out Some Rotations’
Perkins did not stop there for his criticism of Vogel. Overall, he questioned what Vogel has been doing with the team’s rotations.
“The one thing with Frank Vogel is figuring out some rotations,” Perkins said. “He has a lotta, lotta talent, a lot of pieces over there that he has to figure out, guys like Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso when he comes back, you know, figuring out where he is going to implement them into the system, into the offense.”
We are still within the first 20 days of the season, though, and the Lakers do have two new starters (Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol) as well as new key reserves (Matthews and Montrezl Harrell). Some patience is in order.
But with Kuzma, the numbers have slipped and that might be cause for legitimate concern.