The Los Angeles Lakers got their second blowout victory in a row on Sunday, defeating the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves without Anthony Davis in the lineup. A consequence of Davis’ exclusion was head coach Frank Vogel opting to start Kyle Kuzma who immediately validated that decision with an incredible performance.
Kuzma hit his first three 3-pointers to start the game en route to a 20-point performance, all scored in the first half. The fourth-year pro finished the night making eight of 12 field-goal attempts (including four of six from deep) and added an additional three rebounds, three assists, and three blocks to his tally. Kuzma, who finished a game-high +38 on the night, looked to play within the offense the entire night despite his hot shooting and continued playing in his role even with “more opportunities” as he put it in the absence of one of the Lakers’ All-NBA stars.
Kuzma’s teammates and coaches of course took notice of his big night and had nothing but praise for him. Vogel said that the 25-year-old has “become a hell of a player” in tune with other recent comments about Kuzma’s improved impact on the game even when he’s not scoring in bunches. LeBron James, meanwhile, maintained that the game is “slowing down tremendously” for his young teammate, highlighting his impressive passing on a night when he blazed the net from deep:
Here is what LeBron had to say when asked about what he thought of Kyle Kuzma's game tonight and his growth as a player: pic.twitter.com/ehN19mek4U
— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 28, 2020
Passing is just one of the areas of Kuzma’s game that has improved quite a bit since his rookie year when he turned heads with his impressive scoring efficiency as an unheralded rookie. It’s been tough for Kuzma to find that same sort of rhythm offensively since then with a constantly changing role and fewer opportunities alongside two of the top players in the NBA. But while his shooting and scoring have ebbed and flowed, his passing and defense have gradually and consistently grown, turning him into a much more positively impactful player.
Now, his confidence may be increasing to the point of unlocking his overall offensive game, as well. Kuzma has made eight of his 13 attempts from deep (and 19 of 34 overall) thus far this season. Those numbers almost certainly won’t continue through the course of the season but they can help build a rhythm that could turn him into a valuable 3-and-D player on a loaded roster, at the very least. On top of that, his continued chemistry building alongside James and recent big man additions Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell allow him to take advantage of an instinctual ability to cut off the ball and score around the basket.
The big men, in particular, have been a revelation for Kuzma’s incorporation into the offense. Kuzma explained after his big night that he dove into film immediately after Gasol signed with the team to learn how he can cut off the ball and get open looks from one of the sweetest passing bigs in NBA history. As he put it, “everyone on the team has a high IQ” and it seems to be contagious throughout the roster. Case in point, Kuzma did not take a single shot in the second half despite the night he was having as he didn’t want to force things and instead allowed his “gravity” to open up looks for his teammates who profited off the Wolves’ defense keying on the hot shooter.
Of course, these flashes in the pan have happened before for Kuzma and we can’t unilaterally say that he’s finally turned a corner. The next step for him now is to build off of these early performances and continue to strive for consistency in how he plays on both ends of the floor. With the weight of a new contract off his shoulders and a roster that seems perfectly built to adhere to his strengths, it’s shaping up to be a perfect storm for Kyle Kuzma to realize his potential.