On Christmas, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma scored 25 or more points for the fourth time in his last five games, and the former Utah Ute continued to turn heads with an impressive start to his NBA career. While Kuzma's production has been a welcome surprise for the purple and gold over the first 32 games, the Lakers still have 50 games remaining in the marathon 2017-18 NBA season.
Recently, Kuzma's minutes have crept up, as the 22-year-old has topped 40 minutes in those same four of the past five games, but Lakers coach Luke Walton explained his dilemma with the rookie following a Boxing Day practice session at the team's practice facility in El Segundo.
"I'd like to," Walton said when asked about reducing the rookie's minutes.
But how could the coach keep his top scorer and, arguably, most promising player off the court?
"You rely on other guys," Walton said. "Again, it's next man up. Hopefully, we get Brandon (Ingram) back. You know, we were playing Brandon at some backup [power forward]. Julius (Randle) and Larry (Nance Jr.) get more opportunities for sure."
Walton seemed to hesitate as he continued answering the question.
Walton added, "But at the same time, we're trying to play a certain way and win these games, and if Kuzma looks healthy, then it's tough to get him out of there. It really is. The way that he's playing, it's hard to get him off the floor. But I would like to ideally play him less than he's playing right now, as a rookie, just to keep him healthy throughout the whole season."
Effectively, the coach conceded that Kuzma is playing too well for any of the other options to take minutes away from the 220-pound forward, and the coach hinted that Ingram's return following a couple games out with minor issues in both quadriceps could help lighten the rookie's load. The "certain type of way" Walton was most likely referencing has to do with floor spacing and offering the threat of shooting outside the painted are.
Nance and Randle, seemingly, cannot steal a steady stream of minutes from Kuzma because they don't offer the type of shooting that the Flint, Michigan native brings to the game. Over his last five games, Kuzma is attempting nearly eight 3-pointers per game and making a ridiculous 56.4 percent from distance.
Meanwhile, Randle is averaging 22.3 minutes for the season, and Nance is close behind at 22.0 minutes per game and dropping, as the Ohio native is no longer starting and has only touched 30 minutes in a game once during the month of December.
Brandon Ingram on playing tomorrow: "If it feels like it does today, I’ll definitely play."
Luke Walton on Brandon Ingram: "I almost silly fined him for looking so good today for not playing last night."
— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) December 26, 2017
Based on Walton's comments, both Nance and Randle would ideally lighten the load off Kuzma and Ingram's return will help, but the rookie is simply playing too well to sit down if the goal is to win games. Considering the Lakers do not have any incentive to tank and lose games, one expects Walton will continue to play Kuzma big minutes, especially late in games.
Kuzma the last five games: 27.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals in 39.8 minutes per game.