One of last seasons biggest surprises was Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma. The 27th overall pick ended up as a contender for rookie of the year and was a leading contributor under head coach Luke Walton. Heading into his sophomore season in the NBA, Kuzma will look to take the next step. This is a new look Lakers team, so here’s what he will need to do in order to meet expectations this upcoming season.
Kyle Kuzma – Sophomore Season
Enjoy his role
In his rookie year, Kuzma started 37 games. This was mainly due to the emergence of Julius Randle, the Lakers leading scorer. However, Kuzma would play a role in 77 games, making him a key player off the bench. This season, the Lakers will have a new look. The team has made several changes, headlined by LeBron James. Current projections have James starting at power forward for his new team. Now, Kuzma will likely play behind James on the Lakers depth chart. The second-year forward can use his role to his advantage. With James playing more minutes than anyone else, Kuzma’s role is a comfortable one.
Capable of playing the three and four, Kuzma is versatile enough to play instead of or alongside James. A good shooter and polished offensively, Kuzma will benefit from remaining on the bench due to the weaknesses in his game. Known for struggling defensively, his backup role should help him slowly develop at that end of the court. As last season proved, starting Kuzma can be beneficial at one end but not the other. The key to keeping Kuzma on the bench is it gives the second-year talent all the freedom he wants to succeed at the offensive end.
Kuzma’s biggest weakness is his defense, but he isn’t a bad defender, which says a lot about him as a player. Challenged by Walton to improve his defense, Kuzma knows this is a focus. With a defensive rating of 105.7 last season, Kuzma must find a balance between offense and defense.
Accused of being one-dimensional, his lack of focus and intensity at the defensive end did hold him back. Early on the Lakers looked to Larry Nance Jr. to start, this was mainly due to his defensive abilities. Kuzma should have started more games, but when you struggle like he did at times, it’s easy to see why Walton looked elsewhere.
The Lakers should improve defensively as a team this season, whether or not Kuzma will play a key role in doing so is another question.
Kuzma had an up and down rookie year, with injuries to teammates and constant role changes responsible. His minutes per game were sporadic all season long. Starting the season playing 26 minutes per game in October, Kuzma averaged 14 points. Solid numbers for a rookie playing in his first few NBA games.
In December, his minutes per would rise to 34 per game. This resulted in the then-rookie averaging an improved 19.5 points. The more he played, the more he contributed. January is when everything changed for Kuzma. With Randle finding his stride, Kuzma would play less. Playing less than he was in October, Kuzma struggled, averaging just 12 points to start 2018.
Kuzma would recover in the final two months of the season, averaging north of 17.8 in March and April. The point being, Kuzma won’t play 30 plus minutes next season. He must find a way to remain effective and consistent at both ends. Walton loves a strong bench and Kuzma is expected to be a figurehead for the entire unit next season.
This is a big year for a young Lakers team, Kyle Kuzma is just one of many who will need to step up if this team is to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.