The Kyle Kuzma identity crisis with the Lakers

Kyle Kuzma
Credit: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma is a player that gets the Los Angeles Lakers fanbase going in more ways than one. He was a sleeper pick that tore up the 2017 NBA Summer League and gave the franchise hope for a star. Instead, he became just a solid role player. For Kuz, this path is not the ideal one for someone who has big ambitions.

Humble Beginnings

The Michigan kid that went to school all the way out west is a great story. Kyle Kuzma could not ask for a better facelift on life. He, like many NBA players, was raised in the inner city and turned to the game of basketball to escape. He turned those ambitions into a gamble for the Lakers. It shouldn’t be lost on fans that Kuzma has played well for a 27th pick, and it’s offered some payoff for the storied franchise. As mentioned, Kuzma’s rookie season was promising.

In that season, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. After putting up those numbers, he had another jump in scoring with 18.7 points in his second season. Fast forward to this season, and he’s down to 12.9 points per game.

Kuz is one of the faces of the Puma brand. He’s also the epitome of tunnel fashion nuts around the league. Everything he is involved in is about him being the face of something. So the up and down things he’s experienced on the court have rightfully left him bewildered about his role.

Sweeping Changes

I didn’t even mention that the Lakers have transitioned as a whole. They went from a team of rookies and fringe NBA players to a contender over Kuzma’s four years.

Anthony Davis and LeBron James get the first plates at the buffet. Unfortunately, everyone has to just fall in line. For Kuz, that’s a struggle. On top of the dip in scoring, he went from starting 115 games in his first two seasons down to only 41 games over his next two, including last season.

He spoke about this during his interview with Tyler Conway and Bleacher Report:

“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.”

A Good Run, A Bad Run

The Lakers’ most recent playoff run amplified the spotlight on Kuzma. In their championship run, he played the ideal role of a “3&D” guy with a dud here or there. He finished their title quest averaging 10 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

In the Lakers’ 4-2 series defeat to the Phoenix Suns in this year’s playoffs, Kuz had a lot of disappearing moments.

He averaged only 6.3 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Fair Feelings

Sometimes he’s invited to the front of the proverbial line and other times, he’s not. He is looking at his peers like Jayson Tatum get Team USA bids and max deals. He’s right to feel he deserves more, or similar when looking at the start of his career. But he’s in the middle of something special. The Lakers are chasing titles and need different things from guys that have never given said things. And unless his skills and consistency thrusts into his desired role, he has to get it out of the mud. Kuz has improved his defense and activity. That’s one way to get the minutes he wants. He has to ask what is next for him to grow more.

The Lakers can use some on-roster improvement. They have limited resources to plug all of their holes. Kuzma offers the opportunity for them to not get a star, but usable dimensions. Ball-handling and size are two of those dimensions. If Kuz can improve these areas, he’s primed to be the guy that he believes he is. For the Lakers, you save a ton of money and boost an asset in the war chest.

I want greatness for every NBA player living their dreams. The players are on the same wavelength. It’s now time for Kuz to manifest his affirmations into reality. If he can’t solidify who he is, then his dreams — as a Laker — may come to a screeching halt.

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