The Lakers have had the #2 overall picks in the 2016 and 2017 drafts, selecting Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball in each respective year. The Lakers’ best young guy, however, came at the 2017 draft with the 27th pick in Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma has been the Lakers’ best player aside from LeBron James this year, and has been excellent since LeBron injured his groin on Christmas Day. Kuz has averaged 22.2 points per game in the last 6 games he’s played without LeBron (Kuzma missed two games against the Knicks and Timberwolves with a back injury).
It’s been speculated that Kuzma has been the best fit next to LeBron with his natural scoring ability and size, but the former Utah Ute has proved he can operate as the Lakers’ primary scorer with LeBron not on the floor.
Kuzma made a statement with an outrageous performance against the Detroit Pistons, dropping a career-high 41 points in a blowout win on Wednesday. He didn’t do a whole lot of anything else, grabbing 2 rebounds and putting up zeros in assists, steals, and blocks, but Kuzma’s m.o. is being a scoring virtuoso, which is something the Lakers need.
Brandon Ingram has had a good career so far, but it’s hard to not be disappointed when he was compared to Kevin Durant. The KD comparison could be his downfall, because even though they’re both skinny, lanky, forwards with scoring ability, one player scores far better than the other.
Ingram averages 13 points per game for his career, and 16 points per game through 31 games this season. And as a #2 overall pick, Ingram is expected to be showing improvement in his third year in the league — three points added to his scoring average isn’t going to cut it.
Ingram has a much higher ceiling than Kuzma, with his playmaking ability and defense better than Kuzma’s, but in terms of scoring, Ingram hasn’t measured up. Kuzma is the player that the Lakers need right now, and even though LeBron signed a four-year contract with the Lakers, he doesn’t really have time to wait around, hoping for Ingram to improve.
Kuzma is a better Laker than Ingram because he fits better as a complementary piece to LeBron, whereas Ingram would be better-suited in a different situation, where he could realize his full potential.
It’s hard to say that LeBron is holding back Ingram’s development, but as people started to grow skeptical of Ingram, being around LeBron adds much more pressure to improve. Ingram could be the core piece in a potential trade for Anthony Davis, where a version of Ingram that realizes his full potential could be a franchise cornerstone.
Whether Ingram is traded for Anthony Davis or not, by the looks of it, Kuzma will have a better Laker career than Ingram. Not that anybody is expecting either Kuzma or Ingram to be a Laker for life, but LA is in the LeBron era right now, where Kuzma is thriving and Ingram is ho-hum.