The Los Angeles Lakers have had an unlucky past few months.
Superstar Anthony Davis suffered a strained calf on Valentines’ Day against the Denver Nuggets.
He has missed the last 16 games and still does not have a timetable to return.
On March 20th, the other LA star, LeBron James, suffered a high ankle sprain against the Hawks.
He has been ruled out indefinitely, with initial reports estimating 6 weeks.
While the Lakers will only care that James and Davis are back in time for playoffs, it is on the rest of the roster to make sure they get there.
The Western Conference is loaded with talented teams.
Los Angeles is only 4.5 games ahead of the 8th-place Mavericks, and 6 games ahead of the 9th-place Warriors.
With the expanded playoff settings this season, there isn’t much worry for LA to make the playoffs.
But seeding will definitely be affected with James and AD out of the lineup.
They got off to a rough start with back-to-back 17-point losses to the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans.
The remaining Lakers need to step it up while LeBron and Davis are out.
Here are two players who especially need to elevate their game.
Kyle Kuzma is the most obvious answer.
He is supposed to be the third pillar of the Lakers’ “Big 3” along with the two superstars.
Kuzma made serious waves during his rookie and sophomore seasons.
In his second year, he averaged 18.7 PPG on 46% shooting while showing flashes of elite scoring ability.
After being kept out of the Davis blockbuster trade, it seemed the Lakers expected big things from their young forward.
While the scoring output has dipped to 12 PPG while playing next to Davis and James, Kuzma has mostly fulfilled his role.
Providing a scoring spark off the bench and improving his passing ability to help operate the 2nd team offense.
The Utah-product has also made strides as a defender, helping him remain on the court during crunch time.
But with the two heavy lifters out, it will be Kuzma who needs to pick up the slack.
The Lakers are losing 48 PPG combined with their two stars out.
One player cannot make up for all of that production, but Kuzma needs to pick up as much as he can.
"This team was constructed for playing off LeBron and Anthony Davis, so for us, we have to switch up the script."
– Kyle Kuzma pic.twitter.com/56B5h2K9yr
— Lakers Daily (@LakersDailyCom) March 25, 2021
He has proven he can be a top-level scorer in the NBA.
He will need to elevate his game to become at least a 20 PPG scorer with the two cornerstones out.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a major piece of the Lakers title team last season.
He was rewarded with a contract extension this season and has already provided a solid return on investment.
KCP is shooting 40% from 3 and playing solid perimeter defense.
But he has only shot 33% from deep since the start of February.
That includes 37% from the field.
Without the gravity-pulling force of Davis and James on the court, KCP will be counted on to space the floor with his shooting.
Pope does not have to return to hitting the scorching-hot 50% of his triples he did over his first 15 games.
Should the Lakers entertain trading KCP? pic.twitter.com/Yik09cwhsq
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) March 23, 2021
But he will need to be substantially better than 33%.
KCP’s shooting will help space the floor for Kuzma and Schroder to drive the lane.
If he can consistently knock down his threes, it will provide a massive boost to the Lakers’ offense.