Kyle Kuzma had perhaps the best game of his NBA career on Monday. With his Los Angeles Lakers reeling following a 2-4 start in the Disney bubble, he helped right the ship with an outstanding 11-of-16 shooting performance that netted him 25 points. He also gave the Lakers six rebounds and three assists while continuing his stellar defensive play in Orlando with two huge steals. The biggest play, undoubtedly, was the last one.
With the score tied at 121, Lakers coach Frank Vogel drew up the last shot not for All-Stars LeBron James or Anthony Davis, but Kuzma. Knowing that the Nuggets would expect the final shot to go to James, Kuzma set a decoy screen and slipped it before jetting behind the arc for the 3-point attempt. Even with the outstretched arm of 7-2 Bol Bol in his face, Kuzma calmly sank the game-winner.
As if the night couldn't get any better, Kuzma capped it off with an all-timer of a quote when asked whether Bol's defense impacted his shot.
"I think Jesus could be in front of me and I'd probably still shoot," Kuzma said. "I mean, it doesn't really matter to me. I got an open look. It's a play we kind of ran in practice a few times prior to the restart, and Coach had faith in me and called my number and it paid off."
Kuzma is now averaging 16 points per game in the bubble on 44.4 percent shooting from the behind the arc, but his contributions have gone beyond scoring. With Avery Bradley out and most of the Lakers struggling to adjust to bubble life, Kuzma has been a constant for them in the way that James and Davis have been all season.
Whether that has meant hot shooting, terrific defense, improved movement off the ball or his role in vastly improving the bench's overall offense, Kuzma has done everything the Lakers have asked him to do and more in Orlando. He might not be a third star on James' or Davis' level, but he has become easily the third best Laker, and more importantly, he is playing as the third-best player on a contender should.
Kuzma isn't forcing anything, and he's filling in gaps and playing as a part of the team. It's a stark improvement for Kuzma, whose value to the team prior to the hiatus lived and died on his ability to score for himself. He looks like a whole new player in Orlando, and if he keeps it up, the Lakers are going to be very hard to beat in the playoffs.