After a slow start in the Walt Disney World bubble, the Los Angeles Lakers have re-emerged as true championship contenders. One of the biggest developments has been the emergence of Kyle Kuzma as a quality defender.
Throughout the first three years of his career, Kuzma was seen as an offense-first player who struggled defensively. However, Kuzma used the quarantine period to get his legs under him and re-commit to defense.
“I had four months to lift lower body, which I didn’t have an opportunity for because of my injury coming into the season,” Kuzma explained. “My legs weren’t as strong, so I think I have to credit a lot of that.”
Beyond the physical aspects, Kuzma believes his mindset has changed as well. “I just take it personal. I get pissed when I get scored on,” he said.
“I don’t want to be scored on, and that’s just my whole mindset, is trying to be a dog out there. Stop guys so we can get out on the break, come home and have a nice glass of wine with a win. Just trying to suffocate people.”
Kuzma also wanted to dispel the “third option” narrative surrounding him, instead looking to be the team’s third best player overall. “I’m just taking pride in defense and trying to help the team win games,” he said.
“Everybody makes a big deal out of me trying to be the third option, and to me, our team is not built like that. I think for me, my way to make that super impact is trying to be the third-best player, and that’s from the standpoint of trying to lock guys up, play with energy because that’s my strength, just try to give myself to the team and try to play hard.
“I’ve noticed with just trying to do that has really allowed me to flourish.”
This is just a part of the brand new Kuzma that has arrived in Orlando. The improvements on the defensive end have also led to a confidence boost on offense, seeing his numbers go up from before the hiatus.
In the Lakers first 63 games, Kuzma — who played in 54 — scored 12.5 points per game on 43.2% from the field and a poor 29.7% from 3. In the bubble, Kuzma’s 3-point percentage has skyrocketed to 39%, in addition to seeing his points, steals and blocks all improve as well.
If Kuzma can continue this type of play, and the rest of the team can stay consistent as well, the Lakers will be a dangerous group that is completely capable of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in October.
Kuzma focused on playing quality defense
While Kuzma’s top priority historically appeared to be offense, the bubble is bringing out a new side of him. This side is prioritizing defense and simply letting the offense come as a secondary part of his game.
“My scoring doesn’t matter,” Kuzma said. “Coach says it all the time: he wants us to be a well-rounded team that moves the ball outside of our superstars. I never judge my performances off trying to score and have a certain amount of points because that’s not my situation.
“The situation I’m in is trying to figure out a niche, defending at a high level, and being a great teammate. That’s what I can control.”
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