The Los Angeles Lakers struck gold when they selected Kyle Kuzma with the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. They were able to add to the young core at an extremely team-friendly deal that fits the modern NBA perfectly and has a reputation for a tireless work ethic.
After a stellar rookie season, Kuzma entered the 2018-2019 season ready to take on the world playing alongside LeBron James. He had spent the summer participating in marathon training sessions that sometimes ran as often as three times a day and focused on shoring up his deficiencies. Kuzma believes he has the talent to become one of the best players in the league and if he doesn’t get there, it won’t be due to lack of effort on his part.
Unfortunately, Kuzma’s intense summer regimen didn’t result in the breakout season that he was hoping for. The Lakers were hoping that Kuzma’s three-point shooting would help provide the team with spacing but he regressed in that area, dropping from 37% in Year 1 to 30% in Year 2.
Despite his struggles connecting from behind the arc, Kuzma’s scoring saw a slight uptick due to more efficient scoring on two-point shots and a slight uptick in free throw attempts. He also improved as a passer, increasing to 2.5 assists per game. Kuzma is a better distributor than he gets credit for in part due to his focus on scoring, but he can pick out the open man when defenses collapse on him.
Just as important, Kuzma developed quick chemistry with James, frequently benefitting from the latter finding him on backdoor cuts.
Defensively, Kuzma continued to struggle with his reads and positioning. He has the lateral quickness and desire to be a good defensive player, but he still struggles on that end of the floor. Kuzma did improve slightly on his defensive numbers but he still has a ways to go.
Highlight Of The 2018-19 Lakers Season
Kuzma dunked all over the Suns.
At his best, Kuzma is the kind of versatile, jack-of-all-trades that teams are dying to have. He can score inside with a variety of moves, stretch the floor with his shooting, and attack off the dribble when teams close out. He’s even a slick passer when the situation calls for it and his defense — while not good — is slowly but surely improving.
Down the line, Kuzma could be one of the top forwards in the game. What’s more, his path to success is extremely clear: if he can shoot better from deep and improve as a defender, he will take a big step towards becoming the All-Star player that he wants to be.
Because he was selected late in the first round, the Lakers have Kuzma on an extremely team-friendly deal that will pay him just over $5 million in total over the next two seasons. That’s a tremendous value for a starter who is also one of the league’s best young talents. Kuzma will be in high-demand this summer on the trade market, but it’s difficult to see the Lakers moving him unless it’s in a deal for a top-three player.