Kyle Kuzma emerged from the 2017 NBA Draft as a relative unknown but has grown into a polarizing figure. By the time Summer League ended, he had a buzz that rivaled the Lakers last three lottery picks in D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball even as Russell’s departure coincided with Kuzma’s arrival.
As the 27th draft pick, Kuzma has far outplayed his draft position. He’s posted double-digit scoring averages in back-to-back seasons, posting 16.1 and 18.7 points per game in his first two years in the NBA, respectively. The numbers would indicate that this production is perfect alongside a superstar duo, but there’s a big question behind them: Is Kyle Kuzma really ready to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis?
I’m not sure he is, and the rest of the world should feel the same.
Like Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson before him, Kuzma has the makings of an outstanding sixth man. He’s a crafty, no conscience scorer and when the shot is going, things flame up fast.
But just like every microwave scorer, things go south quickly when the shots aren’t dropping. Kuzma took a dip in his 3-point shooting from his rookie season to last year. After ending year one at 36.6 percent from behind the arc, Kuzma shot only 30 percent as a sophomore. On the bright side, he knows that the questions about his shooting dip are in the atmosphere and seems to be hard at work to improve his shooting.
.@kylekuzma on what he worked on:
“My shooting, that’s the biggest thing. I really didn’t shoot the ball well last year like I wanted to. But this year, I always had moves but I didn’t know how to shoot outside of those moves so just learning those techniques, it should be fun.” pic.twitter.com/goHhW6sTfU
— ShowtimeForum (@ShowtimeForum) August 1, 2019
The history of the third star struggling in a LeBron-led trio is real. LeBron has had top guns on the perimeter beside him in Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade. This time around, things are different with Anthony Davis anchoring the post but he’s just as talented as James in his respective position. The Lakers hope that Kuzma rounds out the third piece of the trio especially with questions about DeMarcus Cousins’ health impacting his play.
In this role, he’ll be viewed through the same scope as Chris Bosh and Kevin Love. Bosh took a backseat with the Miami Heat. Love struggled with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both were all-star level players before those roles. How will Kuzma handle his new duties despite not being on the level of Bosh and Love at the respective points of their careers??
There’s going to be an emerging need for Kuzma to expand his game beyond scoring if the shot is not there. The Lakers have a need for a big wing that can defend opposing scorers. If Kuzma was a smart man, this would be another focus to continue squeezing into his regime before he heads to Team USA camp. If he cannot find that redeeming skill, he will also become yet another third guy losing the opportunities that made them effective.
Kuzma has often been touted as the most talented of the Lakers “young” prospects. In actuality, he might just be closer to his ceiling in comparison to his traded counterparts. He’s not a bad player, but how much more can he add to his game and take a leap? The chances are very slim for this to occur. Kuzma is 24 years old and should be nearing his peak production especially alongside James and Davis.
If the Lakers are going to compete for a championship, Kuzma could be the key to it all. The shooting and size on the wing will be an element that the Lakers so desperately need to relieve LeBron and AD. Along with fitting into a new role comes the new expectations.
Surviving the Anthony Davis trade has made Kuzma a continued darling of the Lakers. If he can’t rise to the occasion, there’s a strong chance that the Lakers might take a second look at his future with the team.