While the Los Angeles Lakers challenged Kyle Kuzma to use a successful rookie season as a springboard toward becoming an overall player, there was an emphasis placed on improving defensively.
After proving to be a polished scorer en route to earning a selection to the NBA All-Rookie First Team, Kuzma faced questions and criticism over his showing on the other end of the floor. He worked to shore up on defense, and it’s been apparent thus far in the season.
However, one of Kuzma’s down nights came in the Lakers’ home opener against the Houston Rockets. They attacked and exploited whoever he defended or switched on, lending to plenty of frustration for the second-year forward.
Following the loss, Kuzma vowed to Lakers head coach Luke Walton that him being a defensive liability would ‘never happen again.’ Thursday night represented a chance at redemption for Kuzma.
He and the Lakers collectively had their lapses on defense, but Walton was generally pleased with what he saw from Kuzma, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“Compared to the last however many times he’s played Houston, I thought defensively he did his best job. He made his own mistakes but he was up for the challenge. He was asking to guard Chris and James, and that’s what you want. You want guys that want to compete against the other guy’s best. I thought he did a better job tonight than he’d done in the past as far as following the game plan, forcing them in the direction we want to, and getting them off the 3-point line.”
Kuzma was among the Lakers who were called for questionable fouls, which was a factor in him posting a 132 defensive rating and -12 net rating in the 126-111 loss. James Harden produced a fourth career 50-point triple-double, and Chris Paul had 14 points and 9 assists.
Offensively, Kuzma put together another strong game, scoring 24 points to go along with 5 assists. He was a perfect 7-for-7 on a night the Lakers as a team were a mere 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) from the free throw line.