When the Lakers rounded up their most promising young players and traded them for Anthony Davis last summer, Kyle Kuzma was the lone survivor.
Now, he too could be on the chopping block, with the Lakers listening to trade offers for the fresh-faced Slim Shady doppelganger, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick.
It’s quite the development considering the unexpectedly exceptional start Kuzma has made to his career and his immense popularity in Lakerland.
This news was then followed by a report from the New York Times’ Marc Stein that the Sacramento Kings were one of the teams interested in Kuzma’s services, with Serbian sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic the most likely player to be included in the deal.
The question now is whether the Lakers should pull the trigger.
A deal would require some tinkering, with Kuzma and Bogdanovic on vastly different contracts.
But here’s why the Lakers should find a way to get the deal done…
Bogdanovic would be a much better fit in LA
With James starting at small forward and Davis at power forward, it’s hard to see where Kuzma fits in.
The Michigan native is a creative player who needs at least some space to operate.
But that space has been clogged up this season and his productivity has suffered as a result, with his 18.7 points per game average from last season dropping to 11.8 this season.
Ideally, Davis would play centre, James would slide over to power forward and Kuzma would play alongside them at small forward.
That would still be a far-from-ideal fit, but it would be better than what we’re seeing right now.
However, with AD insistent on spending most of his time alongside a traditional centre, that leaves Kuzma in a difficult position.
Bogdanovic, however, would fit in seamlessly as a natural wing with superior shooter and defender to boot.
Bogdanovic is a better three-point shooter
Bogdanovic has hit 38.3 percent of his threes this season (58th league-wide), compared with Kuzma’s 34.6 percent (112th).
Across their careers, Bogdanovic sits on 37.7 percent and Kuzma sits on 33.7 percent.
A four percent difference might not seem like much, but it absolutely is, especially for a team that’s craving as much perimeter shooting as possible to surround James and Davis.
Despite actively seeking out shooters in the offseason, the Lakers are currently 18th in three-point percentage and 24th in attempts.
Clearly they need some more firepower from beyond the arc.
Bogdanovic is having a greater defensive impact
Kuzma is a natural scorer and has an excellent feel for the game at that end of the floor, but he is not a great defender.
That much was clear across his first two seasons, and his defence still needs work this year.
Bogdanovic, on the other hand, has much better defensive instincts, and the numbers back that up.
Sacramento’s defensive rating improves by 2.9 points per 100 possessions when the Serbian is on the floor, while the Lakers’ defensive rating remains the same whether Kuzma is playing or sitting.
Bogdanovic has played in far more big games
Kuzma might play under a bigger spotlight in LA than Bogdanovic does in Sacramento, but unlike Kuz, the Serbian marksman has played in a slew of massive games.
That lists include three Serbian league championship series before his 22nd birthday, two Turkish league championship series and two Euroleague championship games.
The biggest game Kuzma has ever played in was a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Duke, during which he logged a grand total of two minutes.
Big game experience is crucial, especially for a team like the Lakers with lofty goals of playing in the Finals, and Bogdanovic has been playing in them consistently from a very young age.
And while the Euroleague clearly isn’t as the same level as the NBA skill-wise, the pressure is arguably even higher and the crowds are infinitely more hostile.
The advanced numbers suggest Bogdanovic is a significantly better player than Kuzma
That’s according to WAR (wins above replacement), PER (player efficiency rating), as well as standard on/off numbers and FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric (a complex algorithm that uses player tracking data as well as on/off ratings – more on how the statistic works here).
Here are the numbers:
Bogdanovic’s overall RATOR rating is 1.0, while Kuzma’s is -3.8.
Bogdanovic’s WAR is 1.6, while Kuzma’s is -0.3.
Bogdanovic’s PER is 14.6, while Kuzma’s is 10.7 (below league average).
The Kings’ net rating is 1.4 points per 100 possessions better with Bogdanovic on the floor, while the Lakers’ net rating is 4 points per 100 possessions worse with Kuzma on the floor.
The Lakers don’t have many trade options, and Bogdanovic is their best bet
Not only is the league extremely deep at Kuzma’s position, but there just aren’t many difference-making wings available.
This is likely the best deal the Lakers are going to get, and now is the time to act.