Kyle Kuzma has completely transformed his game in year 4, and it's helping the Lakers in a big way - Lakers Daily

Kyle Kuzma has completely transformed his game in year 4, and it’s helping the Lakers in a big way

Kyle Kuzma Lakers Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

When Kyle Kuzma broke into the NBA in 2017, he instantly enthralled Los Angeles Lakers fans.

Although he was chosen towards the end of the first round of the NBA draft, he instantly possessed the offensive skill set of someone who had been in the league for several years.

As a rookie, he averaged 16.1 points a game, and he upped that average to 18.7 a game in his sophomore season.

But when Anthony Davis arrived last season, the Flint, Mich. native struggled with his new role coming off the bench. His scoring average fell to 12.8 a game, while he shot just 43.6 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from 3-point range.

With one year left on his contract, Lakers fans were divided on whether the team should keep him or look to trade him for a player who would’ve been a better fit.

But so far this season, Kuzma has looked like a much better version of his old self, and many around the league have noticed.

Davis has appreciated Kuzma’s improved game.

“He’s grown, his playmaking is better, his catch-and-shoot is better, and his value for our team has grown from even the beginning of last year to now,” Davis said. “He’s making huge plays for us, his effort and energy is there every night, he’s rebounding, making the hustle plays.

“Things that you didn’t see a lot of last year. You saw spurts of it, but now you’re seeing it every game with him.”

“He’s made a jump and he’s shown why he should be here, he should be in the rotation and shown why he got paid what he got paid. We love him here. We’re very happy to have him here, and he’s only going to get better.”

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel feels that Kuzma is doing an admirable job this season.

“I feel like he’s at peace with what’s being asked of him, and is going out there and killing it,” Vogel said.

“What we talked about a lot last year, he’s being a star in his role. Him coming in and knocking down 3s, and making the right play offensively, sometimes that’s going to lead to a high scoring night, sometimes it’s going to lead to creating for others.

“But him playing as hard as he does on both ends of the ball, crashing the boards every single time, running the floor every single time, working his tail off on the defensive end, that’s part of our identity.

“Guys don’t always have that ability to play hard like that naturally. Sometimes you have to pull it out of people, but you don’t have to pull it out of Kuz. That’s just the way he plays. He’s been a big part of our culture here the last two years.

Kuzma has also gotten props from perhaps the most important person on the team: LeBron James.

“Kyle has finally figured it out,” James said. “He’s figured out what he means to this team. He’s figured out what his role is, and he’s starring in his role. He’s offensive rebounding right now, his attention to detail and running the floor and he’s knocking down shots at a high level. We’re going to be even more dynamic with Kuzma being in the position that he’s in right now.

“He’s just playing some really good basketball. I think the extension, him signing that deal before the season game him a sense of calmness as well. So, he’s just playing basketball, and that’s it.”

How exactly has Kuzma gone from a seemingly one-dimensional player into a pretty well-rounded performer?

3-Point Shooting

Although Kuzma made 36.6 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie, he had struggled mightily in that department since then.

So far this season, however, he is hitting 35.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, and that’s even accounting for a recent slump in his last few games.

With opposing teams focusing on loading up in the paint defensively against L.A., players other than James and Davis are dared to fire away from the perimeter.

The Lakers’ outside shooting was up and down last season, but this season it has significantly improved, and Kuzma is one reason why.

How did Kuzma manage to improve his shooting? One reason why might be that almost two years ago he put in some work with well-known shooting coach “Lethal Shooter” to improve his shooting mechanics.

Moving Without The Ball

When one plays with James and Davis, his opportunities to go one on one with his defender will be few and far between.

As a rookie, Kuzma was often called upon to be a featured scorer for L.A., but not so much anymore.

Thus, he has worked on moving without the ball to get open looks and take some of the pressure off the Lakers’ two superstars.

Not only is he working off screens to get good looks from downtown, but he’s also cutting to the hoop.

Kuzma has also been making a greater effort to run the floor in transition. The Lakers are arguably the NBA’s best running team, and the 25-year-old is looking to take advantage of that.

Rebounding

Kuzma was never known as an impact rebounder during his first couple of seasons, but this year he is putting in work on the boards.

So far this season, he is averaging 8.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is significantly higher than his previous high-water mark of 7.2 in his rookie season.

In particular, he is targeting the offensive boards, hence his average this season of 2.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, which is twice as high as his previous career-high.

The good and great scorers in the NBA, especially at the forward and center positions, often have a knack for crashing the offensive boards to give themselves more easy opportunities.

Defense

Kuzma was regarded as a mediocre or weak defender earlier in his career. But this season, he has stepped it up.

One factor may be that he is now playing the majority of his minutes at the 3 spot, instead of the 4 spot, which is where most of his playing time came from prior to this season. It has meant that he is finding himself guarding shorter and leaner players with a build more similar to his own.

Kuzma is also putting more effort into blocking shots, especially from behind. As a result, he is averaging .9 blocks per 36 minutes, which is up greatly from .6 last season.

In the past, the Lakers would defend well in spite of him. Now they are the best defensive team in the league thanks in part to Kuzma’s efforts.

That defense won them last year’s NBA championship, and it could very well allow them to repeat as world champs this year.