Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma was the team’s breakout star at the beginning of the season, exceeding almost all pre-draft expectations and using Summer League and the preseason to force his way into head coach Luke Walton’s rotation.
Once he was there, Kuzma made the most of the opportunity, averaging 19.5 points and 7.6 rebounds on 40 percent shooting over the Lakers’ 14 games in December. But Kuzma tailed off after that, averaging 12.1 points and 4.7 rebounds throughout the next two months.
The rookie forward has rebounded of late, however, increasing his scoring average back up to 17.2 points per game and seeing his 3-point percentage tick back to 43.1 percent.
After the Lakers’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Kuzma said the reason for his bounceback was largely a byproduct of playing more, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“There was a point in time in December when I was playing a lot of minutes and then I kind of just went back to the bench, kind of lost my rhythm and played less minutes. It’s picking back up, my rhythm is there, shooting is there, hopefully I’m picking it up defensively and getting better overall.”
Kuzma might not be wrong about minutes being the issue. He’s currently averaging 37.1 minutes per game in March, a lot more than the 25.1 minutes he averaged during his December to January slump, and more than the 34.2 he played in December.
Kuzma playing more minutes is partially due to Brandon Ingram’s injury forcing the rookie to get more action out of position on the wing to cover for his teammate. So they will likely go down again slightly once Ingram, who ranks second in minutes per game on the team, returns.
Still, Kuzma has managed to force his way into playing the second-most total minutes of any player on the roster, and the fact that he’s managed to acquit himself well while not even playing his natural position is a promising sign for his future.
Eventually the versatile rookie will have to learn to make an impact no matter how many minutes he plays, but for now it’s just a positive sign that he can make such a big impact on NBA games as a first-year player, period.