Kyle Kuzma breaks out in big way in return to the NBA bubble

Ryan Kostecka

It's been a weird NBA season for Kyle Kuzma.

The former Utah basketball star was at one time a vital part of LA Lakers' future, emerging as a young prospect with all-star capabilities. 

But an ankle injury suffered last summer delayed his start to the 2019-20 season, and he never really got into game shape and it showed. His numbers all dropped significantly from the previous season, and when combined with the play of LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the front court (two of the best players in the game today), Kuzma was left with the scraps minutes-wise.

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Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down the sports world and ultimately delaying the NBA for 4.5 months — and it might've been the best thing to happen to Kuzma.

“After USA, I couldn’t be on the court for two, two and a half months,” Kuzma said of the ankle injury he sustained while training with the USA national team. “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.” 

Finally healthy and able to work on his game fully, Kuzma has returned to life in the NBA bubble in Orlando with a vengeance.

During LA's recent scrimmage victory over the Orlando Magic, Kuzma dropped a team-high 25 points, going 10-of-13 from the field and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. It was the sort of performance that LA head coach Frank Vogel, James and his teammates are expecting from Kuzma if the Lakers want to win their first NBA title in more than 15 years.

"Kuz has been one of our best players since this restart in these practices, he’s had a couple of stretches where he just dominated the floor and it’s been really encouraging to see," Vogel said following Kuzma's game against the Magic. "He had some inconsistency with the beginning of our season because he dealt with three different injuries that really prohibited him from getting his legs under him. The shot-making wasn’t always there, but it’s been there at a very high level during this restart, and we’re very encouraged and excited about what having a real/healthy training camp could mean for him. Hopefully that leads to an increased role and gives us that boost that we’re looking for."

Kuzma's emergence in the frontcourt as a scorer and playmaker is massive to LA's success because it allows Vogel to stagger the minutes of James and Davis, LA's two stars. By staggering their minutes throughout the course of a game and season, it gives Kuzma the opportunity to play sidekick to either player while both stars stay healthy for the postseason.

Time will tell how the rest of the NBA season and its playoffs all play out in the bubble. But if Kuzma's breakout game is any indication of what's to come the rest of the way, the rest fo the league has officially bene put on notice that the Lakers are serious threats to win it all.

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Twitter — @UtahUtes_SI and Ryan Kostecka at @Ryan_Kostecka

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