With Larry Nance Jr. back from injury, Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma savors his time among starters
By Bill Oram
LOS ANGELES — For 11 games, Kyle Kuzma held down the Lakers’ starting power forward spot. He averaged more than 18 points per game, burnishing both his resume and growing legend.
The return of Larry Nance Jr. on Monday, however, meant the fun was over. At least for now. Less than a month after he underwent surgery on left hand, Nance slid back into his old job against the Clippers, moving Kuzma back to the bench.
While fans may have liked to see Kuzma continue in his leading role, one person who did not seem to object to Coach Luke Walton’s decision was Kuzma himself.
“To me it doesn’t really matter,” Kuzma said. “I proved I can play against second-unit guys, first-unit guys. Same thing.”
As good as Kuzma was in his time with the first unit, Walton was always inclined to go back to Nance, who averaged 10.6 points and 7.5 rebounds before breaking his second metacarpal on Nov. 2 in Portland.
He beat out fourth-year forward Julius Randle and Kuzma for the starting job in the preseason.
“I don’t believe in players losing starting positions from getting hurt,” Walton said. “I think Kuzma did a very nice job of filling in for him, but now that Larry’s ready to play again we’ll put him back to the spot that he earned in training camp.”
Nineteen games into his rookie season, Kuzma, who was drafted 27th overall in June, is averaging 15.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He emerged as a rotation player for the Lakers with strong performances in Summer League and the preseason, and has continued to capitalize on opportunities as they’ve come.
“He is really good at just when he is in the game playing basketball and competing,” Walton said. “Whether that is starting or coming off the bench or playing late […]