Even though the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t have the success that they were hoping for this season, that doesn’t mean that no one made any improvements throughout the season. Kyle Kuzma took his second season as a learning experience and continued to find ways to add to his game. Only having been in the NBA for two years, there’s still more room for him to grow, but this season felt like a big step in the right direction.
During the 2017-2018 season, Kuzma played in 77 games and started in 37 of them. This season, he played in 70 games and started in 68 of them. While he was an asset off of the bench in his first season, even garnering a starting spot at times, he remained consistent this season and saw himself moved into the starting role for almost every game.
Even though Kuzma started more games, he only played roughly two minutes more per game. However, he made the most of those two extra minutes on the court. He averaged 18.7 points per game and maintained a field goal percentage of around 45 percent. Kuzma’s 3-point percentage dropped off from 36.6 percent in his rookie year to just 30.3 percent this season. But Kuzma was able to remain an efficient scorer overall (54.6 true shooting percentage) by finishing well at the rim and getting to the free throw line.
Not everything that a player does winds up on a stat sheet. Sometimes it’s about what you can see on the court and how you move when you don’t have the ball. Many things contribute on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, which makes someone’s basketball IQ a crucial part of their career.
People have talked plenty about LeBron’s basketball IQ and there’s no doubt that he and a handful of other players in the league are a step above the rest – it’s what makes them great. Now, it remains to be seen if Kuzma becomes a great player, but barring any severe issues, he’s on his way to becoming a solid player.
The highlights from the first half of the season show how he’s moving without the ball to create shots for himself. He can see when there’s an opportunity for someone else’s shot, as well. Not all young players have that sort of insight into the game and it can take some players time to develop it. This season was a good leap forward for Kuzma, even if it doesn’t always show up in his stat line on any given night.
Working With LeBron
LeBron is a wealth of knowledge for the young Lakers. Kuzma talked about learning from LeBron at his exit interview. Even when LeBron was injured, he could still help players improve by showing them what they can work on and what they’re missing on the court.
The two mesh well on the court, too, which allows for even more of a learning experience as the two play together. On the season, the Lakers were outscored by 9.5 points per 100 possessions when Kuzma was on the court without James and by two points per 100 possessions when James was on the court without Kuzma. With both on the floor, the team had a net rating of 2.9.
Kyle Kuzma has a good chance of continuing to up his game. His team option for the 2019-2020 season was exercised back in October. After the drama of the trade deadline, Kuzma continued to play well. With Luke gone now, it’ll be interesting to see how the next coach put Kuzma’s skillset to use. I’m excited for what’s to come out of Kuzma’s career.