Since the addition of Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers roster, Kyle Kuzma had struggled to find his role within the team. He was anointed the team’s “third star” before the 2019-20 season even began, leading to heightened pressure and expectation.
For a while, Kuzma was stuck trying to figure out exactly what type of player he would be for the Lakers. Now — a third of the way through the 2020-21 season — it appears the fourth-year forward has transformed from a score-first stretch four to a rebounding, playmaking hustle player playfully being likened to Dennis Rodman.
This is a massive stylistic change for Kuzma, as his game went from being about flash and style to grit and grind. “He’s been good for us, man,” Davis said.
“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. 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 brings that spark for us with his shot-making ability, his playmaking has gotten better with passing and things like that, and his energy and effort on the offensive glass. 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.”
Over the last few years, the Lakers have had multiple opportunities to trade Kuzma in exchange for various types of players. And while at the time some of those deals may have looked like the right move, L.A.’s front office is now being rewarded for sticking by him and not moving on.
Per 36 minutes, Kuzma is averaging career-highs in rebounds and blocked shots while averaging career lows in turnovers and fouls. He’s also rediscovered his 3-point shot from his rookie season, reaching the 36% mark once again.
Kuzma focusing on rebounds regardless of Davis’ availability
While it’s easy to question if Davis missing five games has helped Kuzma become a better rebounder purely out of necessity, the young forward doesn’t see it that way. “If [Davis] plays or doesn’t play, it doesn’t matter for me,” Kuzma said.
“My job is to come in and my game is just rebounding right now. Just trying to play as hard as I possibly can. It’s a big factor for this team, it’s what this team needs and that’s what I’m providing.”
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