The longest-tenured Laker will be coming into his fifth season with the team, as Kyle Kuzma will look to improve on a season that saw him regain some of his shooting abilities from his rookie year while also dramatically improving his defense to become one of the better wing defenders on the team.
I talked to Kyle Kuzma about wanting a more consistent role next season, why he saw the Suns as a championship team and more https://t.co/r6cO7DrUA7
— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) July 8, 2021
However, this Lakers team ran into an offense problem in the 2020-21 season which, when combined with the injuries, caused the team to be eliminated in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. Prior to the 2019-20 championship run, it was expected by many that Kyle Kuzma could make a leap and form a three-headed monster on offense alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That didn’t really happen, but Kuzma still believes in himself. The problem, as he told Tyler Conway of Bleacher Report, is that he hasn’t had a consistent role since Davis joined the team.
“My biggest thing is I just want to play within a consistent role,” Kuzma said. “If I have that ability, I’ll be able to showcase what I can really do. There were parts of this year—and even anywhere else in my career—when I’m in a consistent space, I’m out there handling the ball, making teammates better, scoring, shooting, defending, rebounding. I think if I’m in that space, I’ll be good.”
Kuzma was then asked by Conway if he still believes he can be a 25-points-per-game-scorer, capable of reaching the heights of being an All-Star in the league. As you can imagine, Kuz did not lack confidence when responding.
“I definitely can. I definitely believe that, too. I don’t really care what nobody thinks or says. I know myself, and I know my ability. It’s hard to be consistent in an inconsistent role. I’m excited for a more consistent space next year,” Kuzma said.
“I’ve done a great job every offseason of trying to build something and add something to my game. I’ve turned myself into a great defender. My rookie year, I was a stop sign on defense. I didn’t really stop anybody. Now, whether it’s elite wings, 4 men, even point guards and shooting guards, I have the ability to guard four positions now and really affect the game on that end of the court.”
To be a player in the NBA averaging 25 points per game, you have to be handling the ball a lot. That’s hard to do on a team with LeBron James and Dennis Schröder, as ball-handling is those two players’ greatest strength. With Frank Vogel taking every advantage of those strengths, that leaves little time for Kuzma to handle the ball. In addition, Kuzma has shown little ball-handling talent in his few opportunities to handle the ball over the course of the past two seasons. Kuzma knows this, and said this is something he’s working on this summer.
“I’m working on my ball-handling so I’m able to get where I want on the court more efficiently and not necessarily be an in-the-corner type of shooter,” Kuzma said.
Even if Dennis Schröder were to leave the team, Kuzma would have to dramatically improve his ball-handling for Vogel and the team to want him to be a focal point of his offense next to LeBron. It’s interesting to hear Kuzma sort of rejecting the role he took on in the 2020-21 season, as he seemed to thrive in the role with plenty of opportunities for improvement to become even better in it next season.
This will be interesting to monitor through the rest of the offseason as the Lakers restructure their roster. Kuzma signed a three-year $40M contract extension that will begin this upcoming season, causing Kuzma to be a huge trade asset for the Lakers as not many young wing defenders can be acquired at that price point.