The Los Angeles Lakers will be without NBA superstar Anthony Davis for least the next 2-3 weeks because of a lower calf strain. Davis, who had missed two games earlier in February because of Achilles soreness, only made it through 1.5 games before re-aggravating the injury.
Resting their star player until he is 100 percent healthy is the smart move. The Lakers have title aspirations; pushing him to play in games in March doesn’t make any sense. They would much rather have him ready to do in April, May and June when the playoffs are underway.
Replacing a player of Davis’ caliber will never be an easy thing to do. Los Angeles will need multiple players not named LeBron James to step up in his absence, chief among them being Kyle Kuzma.
The fourth-year forward from Utah is playing the fewest minutes per game in his career, but he is having arguably his best season. While he could stand to improve his free throw rate, he is having a solid season efficiently scoring the ball, as he has regained his 3-point shooting stroke.
Kuzma has been an integral part of the team’s success coming off the bench, but without Davis, he will be moved into the starting lineup more often than not. In the starting five, playing alongside more consistent players, Kuzma has seen his efficiency go even higher.
In seven games this season in the starting lineup, Kuzma is averaging 30.7 minutes per game, scoring 13.3 points on 49.4 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from the 3-point line. His true shooting percentage of 57.9 is also very solid.
Scoring as efficiently or easily as Davis makes it look isn’t something to expect Kyle Kuzma to do. However, if he can step up and push his scoring average closer to 16-18 points per game in his absence, it would be a big help. Keeping up that efficiency he has shown would also be a great sign.
The one thing the Lakers are going to miss the most with Davis sidelined is his defensive presence. Davis is a perennial All-NBA Defender and is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year annually. His ability to defend the rim and switch onto players on the perimeter is something very few players in the league are capable of doing at such a high level.
Kuzma won’t be asked to defend the rim as Anthony Davis was, but he can help by keeping up the level of defense has provided on the perimeter this season. The former Ute has never be lauded for his defense, but things have clicked for him recently.
Just how good has Kuzma been on the defensive end? How does elite sound? You read that right. Kuzma ranks in the 99th percentile as an isolation defender since Frank Vogel joined the Lakers. He is in the 90th percentile of plenty of other defensive metrics as well.
That is as big of a reason as any that Kyle Kuzma is being inserted into the starting lineup and has the tall task of replacing Anthony Davis. Continuing to step up on the defensive side of the ball will help keep the Lakers moving forward without their second All-Star on the court and take pressure off LeBron James in a needed way.