As Kyle Kuzma is the last remaining member of the Lakers’ “young core” that was jettisoned off to New Orleans in exchange for Anthony Davis, he receives a lot of attention. Fans love it when a player grows into a star on the same team that he was drafted on, resulting in plenty of eyes being on Kuzma’s development on a nightly basis. Everything started off well in his career, as Kuzma overachieved for a 27th overall pick in his rookie year. In that season he averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game on 36.6% shooting from three. He declined in his sophomore season (although he did average 18.7 points per game), lowering his three-point percentage to 30.3 percent.
The numbers are down again this season, in part because he plays far fewer minutes at 24.6 per game this season compared to 33.1 per game last season. Still, that doesn’t excuse his 29.7% three-point percentage. Kuzma also received a lot of hype as the Lakers’ possible “third guy” before the season started, a status that Jared Dudley believes he can still reach in the Orlando bubble.
Frank Vogel talked in length about Kyle Kuzma on Monday morning, not only instilling hope in the third-year forward but saying he has been one of the Lakers’ “best players” so far in their Orlando practices. Vogel’s full quote is below courtesy of Mike Trudell with the Lakers/Spectrum SportsNet.
“Kuz has been one of our best players since this restart in these practices, he’s had a couple of stretches where he just dominated the floor and it’s been really encouraging to see. He had some inconsistency with the beginning of our season because he dealt with 3 different injuries that really prohibited him from getting his legs under him. The shot-making wasn’t always there, but it’s been there at a very high level during this restart and we’re very encouraged and excited about what having a real/healthy training camp could mean for him. Hopefully, that leads to an increased role and gives us that boost that we’re looking for.”
I personally suspected Dudley’s previous statements on Kuzma still being the Lakers’ “third guy” as a bit of blind hope given to Kuzma who could probably use it given how much most people love to talk down on him. However, it’s nice to see that his head coach not only believes in Kuz, but he believes that Kuz could be setting himself up for a much more involved role in the playoffs compared to the regular season. Dudley commented on Vogel’s words on Kuzma, tweeting the following which appears to show that Dudley thinks Vogel is “right on target”.
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) July 20, 2020
Vogel talked about injuries that Kuzma had suffered at the beginning of training camp and how these affected his play. These injuries were reported, with Kuzma suffering a stress reaction with Team USA in the summer. That injury kept him out of the start of training camp as well as the first four games of the season. He also suffered an ankle sprain in the same aforementioned left foot that caused him to miss five games in December. To top it off, he also suffered a nasty-looking eye abrasion in late November that caused him to miss part of the game. Simply put, the man spent the first few months beat up, with Vogel specifically mentioning that Kuzma is finally getting “his legs under him” after he probably struggled with that due to the foot/ankle injuries.
Here are some highlights of Kuzma and the Lakers' second-half defensive gameplan against Westbrook pic.twitter.com/QjaaasSv8C
— Lakers Outsiders (@LakersOutsiders) January 19, 2020
Kyle Kuzma had quietly been performing well before the season was suspended, although it wasn’t necessarily from his scoring. He was starting to excel in rebounding and was also starting to improve his defense. He has notoriously become known for being a below-average defender, at best, so it was very encouraging to see. He specifically was applauded by LeBron James and Frank Vogel in January for defense he played on Russell Westbrook in a win against the Rockets (video above). It was also pointed out by @pickuphoop on Twitter that Kuzma had the best DRTG of any rotational player for the Lakers in the final 10 games before COVID-19 suspended the season.
In 10 games after the All-Star Break, Kuzma posted a defensive rating of 93.8, which was the best of any rotation player on the Lakers. pic.twitter.com/hF7I0NN5XJ
— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) July 20, 2020
Even though Kuzma was starting to find different ways to contribute to Lakers’ wins, any increase in scoring ability would be welcomed with open arms. The Lakers were already trying to add a scorer around the trade deadline, being connected to players such as Darren Collison, Derrick Rose, and Marcus Morris. In addition, the Lakers will now be without Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley who each contributed to the Lakers’ offense in many moments this season. Kuzma having an uptick in scoring at Walt Disney World would fill a void that existed before Rondo and Bradley’s absence, one that is even larger now.