The Los Angeles Lakers have come a long way since being ecstatic over summer league play and the NBA Draft Lottery. Laker fans throwing Twitter debates on who should be the No. 2 pick and the future in Los Angeles. Jim Buss. Mitch Kupchak and Magic Johnson errors and drama halted the purple and gold’s success, including their young core draft picks. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Larry Nance Jr., and Kyle Kuzma were all drafted in hopes of developing them like the Golden State Warriors’ front office did so with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
However, all of that changed in 2018. After trading Nance to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers made arguably one of the franchise’s biggest blockbuster trades by trading away Ball, Hart, and Ingram to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis. The rest is history, but who played a bigger role than one expected? The Flint, Michigan native.
Kyle Kuzma’s Impact with the Los Angeles Lakers
To basketball fans, he is known as the guy with the interesting wardrobe, Ball’s former sidekick, and “Kuzmania.” To Laker fans, he is essentially the golden boy of the roster. He is the only piece of the “young core” remaining on the roster. His inconsistent shooting and defending performances have haunted him throughout his career but is slowly settling in.
Why is he not performing up to the “hype,” even as a second-round pick? Why does he bite on every backdoor cut? How is it that he can score 20 points one night but go cold the next day? These are all questions he has heard and seen across the media since his first minutes in a Lakers’ uniform. Imagine being a 22-year-old man receiving toxic backlash while always hearing your name in trade rumors up until 2020. Kuzma’s impact plays a bigger role on the court than what statistics show.
From a basketball perspective, Kuzma has actually been consistent with his shooting percentages. He has not shot lower than 44 percent from the field in his career and despite his lower three-point percentages, he finds other ways to excel on the court. He started his career as a sharpshooter role in the starting five. However, his role transitioned into a reserve, sixth-seventh man rotation player who knows his role. For the average 25-year-old, that is a lot for someone in his prime to consider, especially at the end of his rookie contract. Kuzma’s quick, off-ball movement helps run a pass-heavy offense with players like Davis, LeBron James, and Alex Caruso. Despite the Lakers’ early struggles defensively, Kuzma’s off-ball IQ and improved perimeter defense have kept Los Angeles in their games thus far. It is not easy to defend Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, and CJ McCollum.
Hard Work Pays Off for Kyle Kuzma
Kuzma’s hard work on and off the court paid off in 2020, earning his first NBA Finals win. He was also awarded a three-year, $40 million contract extension for his impact. It is a win-win scenario as at best, the Lakers have Kuzma for three more years at a steal of a price. At worse, he is traded away due to struggles, along with a more trade-friendly deal. He has learned from James, Davis, Rajon Rondo, and even vets such as Jared Dudley, whose role is to establish and maintain excellent chemistry in the locker room. Yes, you need players like that, especially on a veteran-heavy roster. Moving to Los Angeles from Flint, Michigan is a big move for a young player, especially when playing for one of sports’ most iconic franchises. Kuzma has handled the transition well, even in his fourth season.
There are many pressures a player receives the second they suit up in purple and gold because of their iconic and successful history. Because of this, it is easy for players in all parts of their careers to struggle on and off the court (ex: Ingram’s recent comments on the young core distracted by constant trade rumors). Owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka both recognized this, especially with Frank Vogel anchoring the coaching staff and roster. In his career, Kuzma has averaged 15.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists off 45 percent shooting and 33 percent from behind the arc. He may be off to a slow start this season, but if a player can make up the lack of scoring with defense, rebounding, assists, and the little things such as boxing out, that will make a coach and roster happy.
What’s Next for Kyle Kuzma?
In five games thus far in the 2020-21 season, Kuzma is averaging 12 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 25 minutes per game simply due to the Lakers adding more depth. However, he has shown no signs of slowing down nor giving up, which is something to commend him for, especially in his prime. If he can continue his success on the court, in the locker room, and is distraction-free, he will grow into a bigger role when the postseason arrives.
For now, continue to follow Kuzma’s journey (and his wacky gameday outfits) and enjoy the ride with the kid from Flint and out of Utah.
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