Kyle Kuzma was not the first-year player on the Los Angeles Lakers roster who garnered headlines but he finished the season as one of the steals of the draft and with a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
For all his success, Kuzma was challenged with improving during the summer, particularly on the defensive end. That was further emphasized when it became clear the Lakers would rely on small-ball lineups because JaVale McGee was the lone viable center on the team.
Kuzma struggled playing center, which presumably was a factor behind the Lakers signing Tyson Chandler once he was bought out by the Phoenix Suns and cleared waivers. Chandler’s arrival has allowed Kuzma to remain on the perimeter as a forward.
While signing Chandler has been a success on its own merit, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson pointed to the domino effect for Kuzma as an added benefit, as seen on Spectrum SportsNet:
“I think he’s really happy that he’s playing at home for the Lakers, and we’re definitely happy to have him. It takes a lot of pressure off Kyle Kuzma. It moves him back to his natural position of playing power forward.”
In addition to no longer being asked to play center in a small-ball unit, Kuzma appears to have cemented himself in the starting lineup. He was given the opportunity when Brandon Ingram received a four-game suspension for his role in the fight between Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
Rather than decide on whether Kuzma or Ingram should start, Lakers head coach Luke Walton has opted for a lineup with size, length and versatility by starting Ingram at shooting guard. One result has seen Kuzma develop chemistry with LeBron James by moving off the ball.
Even with Chandler and McGee proving to be an effective tandem at center, Walton recently noted the Lakers must still find a way to be successful in the even they go small.