Just one day after celebrating his 25th birthday, Lakers’ forward Kyle Kuzma went off for 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting including sinking five three-pointers in the team’s 119-112 win over the Orlando Magic.
All of the hard work he put in over the four-month quarantine hiatus was reflected in his play on Saturday. It started early in the first quarter when Kuzma was tapped in for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. His first three-pointer was cash and the three he attempted after went in as well.
It is no secret that Kuzma has struggled to find his redefined role after Davis joined the Lakers as the clear No. 2 option for the team behind LeBron James. The Lakers have looked to Kuzma as the consistent third option, but he has not been able to settle in as the season progressed.
With Avery Bradley out of the bubble and Rajon Rondo sidelined for six to eight weeks, Kuzma said that it allows him to play the way he is more accustomed to not being limited to a catch-and-shoot role.
“It just allows me to be a playmaker and have the ball in my hands instead of standing in the corner and being a spacer,” Kuzma stated. “It just allows me to be myself and play free.”
Between showing off his quarantine outfits, Kuzma posted footage of his basketball workouts, shooting around at different parks and gyms around Los Angeles while the Lakers’ training facility closed. He revealed after his 25-point performance in Saturday’s scrimmage that he has made minor tweaks to his shot that has paid off.
“I made a few, a few tweaks,” Kuzma said. “Nothing crazy. But a few just minor things that really helped me out.”
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Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel expressed that he believes this version of Kuzma would have shown up earlier in the season had it not been for his missed time due to injuries.
“What he did today, he did all through our restart training camp so to speak,” Vogel said. “I’m just really excited about what the restart is going to look like for him.”
Kuzma had a stress reaction in his left foot that he sustained during last summer’s U.S.A. Basketball training camp. It forced him to miss training camp at the start of the regular season and the first four games of the season. He subsequently suffered a sprained ankle back in December that caused him to be sidelined for an additional five games.
“After U.S.A., I couldn’t be on the court for two, two and a half months,” he said. “Just sit at home, shoot from a chair. So I wasn’t really able to play right away. Especially lifting weights, I couldn’t really bear any weights lower body-wise to get ready for the season. So past four months, it’s been good for me getting in the gym and lifting heavy and getting ready, having a full training camp definitely helped.”
If this version of Kyle Kuzma can consistently show up throughout the playoffs the Lakers will be in the optimal position to hold up the Larry O’Brien championship trophy in October.
“After starting the regular season in a different role, with injuries, not quite in rhythm and just battling some of those things, to have a fresh mindset of being healthy and a second training camp really seems to have benefited him,” Vogel noticed. “We saw him play exceptional tonight, and I just think that’s going to be a huge piece for us going into the playoffs.”