A main priority of the Los Angeles Lakers in the eight seeding games and three scrimmages in Orlando will undoubtedly be to get some sort of consistency from Kyle Kuzma. The third-year pro has largely struggled this season under the weight of high expectations with flashes of talent being followed by some poor performances.
On Saturday, in a scrimmage win over the Orlando Magic, Kuzma once again showed the potential that has made coaches and teammates consistently praise his talent. A day after turning 25, Kuzma poured in 25 points, hitting his first four 3-point shots and finishing with 10-of-13 shooting overall. The forward also added seven rebounds off the bench.
After the game, Kuzma gave some insight into what led to his great performance, highlighting two things in particular:
Kyle Kuzma says he made a few tweaks to his shot over the hiatus on his own, and that having the ball in his hands more has allowed him to play better.
"It just allows me to be myself, play free."
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 25, 2020
The first note is that Kuzma has tweaked his shot in the four month break since the season was shut down. It is a little unnerving that this is now multiple times that the Utah product has changed his shot since entering the NBA but it’s also a positive sign that he recognized a weakness and has worked on improving it.
More importantly, Kuzma continued to vouch for more possessions handling the basketball, something that he credited for a better stretch of play in the few weeks before the season was shut down.
The Lakers have tried to use Kuzma as more of a wing player than a big, recently, especially after adding Markieff Morris to their frontcourt rotation after the trade deadline. The change has allowed Kuz to use his quickness to get himself more open shots in rhythm and he has looked more comfortable than he did as a spot-up shooter.
On Saturday, the majority of Kuzma’s 3-point makes were still assisted, with the young forward doing a great job of coming off screens, squaring his body and going up in one motion to cash in five of his seven opportunities. Still, it’s the few possessions handling the ball that really add to his value and keep him in rhythm for an entire match.
On top of his pin-point accuracy from behind the arc, Kuzma had two baskets going downhill to the rim (one on a fastbreak), one catch-and-shoot jumper from the free throw line against the Magic’s zone defense, a mid-range jumper in isolation, and a mid-range pull-up jumper on a pick-and-roll possession.
It’s that last type of opportunity that could open up an entire game plan for Kuzma. Many teams in the playoffs will choose to drop their bigs back to prevent the lob threat that all of the Lakers’ screen-setters provide (the Bucks, for example, do this a lot). While mid-range jumpers are often seen as inefficient, in postseason games with fewer possessions, being a threat to rise up and make a few of those shots can completely demolish an opponent’s defensive game plan. Add Kuzma’s ability to accelerate and his wife variety of finishes at the rim, and it makes him an even more difficult weapon to defend as a pick-and-roll ball handler.
Of course, for any of this to matter, Kuzma will have to continue to have these types of performances where his spot-up shooting balances his ball-handling. Consistency is the key for the Lakers’ presumed third option and getting to that point could make the Lakers’ the favorites to win the championship. With Avery Bradley out and Rajon Rondo missing the next few weeks, Kuzma will have even more chances to handle the ball and run the offense. It will be crucial for him to keep up these great performances.
Kuzma has had the undying support of his teammates and coaches all season despite his struggles. It’s up to him to prove them right.