The hype surrounding Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma has been real, and for good reason. Kuzma leads the Lakers in scoring at 17.8 points per game, and is the best three-point shooter on the team.
The bitterness of things going the other way for Kuma stung the Lakers Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, though. Kyle went a brutal 4-of-24 from the field, but the Lakers’ rookie wasn’t down on himself after the performance.
“I was very happy about the shots. I think they were all, for the most part, pretty good shots. Open shots. Just wasn't falling tonight. As a professional I feel like you're going to have those nights, everybody's had those type of nights, and tonight was mine,” Kuzma told reporters after the game.
Kuzma attempted 24 shots, but only eight of them were considered “contested,” according to the NBA’s player tracking system. Kyle missed all eight of the “contested” shots he put up, and made just four of his 16 uncontested attempts. For comparison’s sake, Brandon Ingram made six of his 14 contested shots.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton didn’t sound overly stressed over his rookie hoisting 24 shots despite the outcome, either.
“I think Kuz’ just had a poor shooting night,” Walton said as he debriefed media during his postgame press conference.
Elsewhere, Larry Nance Jr. seemed to agree. The rims just weren’t cooperating with the Lakers Wednesday night.
“Shots weren't falling. There was a lid on the rim for us tonight. We were getting good looks, but they just weren't falling,” Nance Jr. said.
There was more to it than that, of course. The Grizzlies’ defense made sure to pack the paint, successfully leaning on Marc Gasol to protect the paint. Kuzma had an incredibly hard time dealing with Gasol’s presence, and defensive IQ, any time he ventured into the paint.
Review of the film on Kuzma’s night reveals a footage of a rookie learning the hard how a defensive anchor can alter everything he’s trying to accomplish:
And, of course, when a player puts up 24 shots there’s not a chance all of them were quality looks:
Is this the end of Kuzmania as we know it? Of course not, but it was a good reminder for everyone that scoring baskets isn’t always as easy as Kuzma’s makes it seem on a nightly basis.
“It's part of the reason I'm always trying to stay on him about how important the rest of the game is. Being a playmaker, being a defensive stopper, so when you do have off nights there's still positive ways you can affect your time in winning ball games,” Walton said.
With Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez out, the Lakers’ offense certainly needs all the scoring it can get. Wednesday night, the Lakers had an offensive rating of 94.4 points per 100 possessions in the 34 minutes that Kuzma played. They also dished out a season-low 14 assists as a team, while falling into the Grizzlies’ trap of playing at a grinding pace.
“We would have had a lot more assists if I would've hit some shots. We just didn't hit shots as a team, we had a lot of great looks, we just didn't really convert,” Kuzma said.
Ultimately this is just one small window into one of the most fascinating Lakers rookies in years. One off game shouldn’t shake his confidence, nor should fans or the franchise feel any different.
What we did learn is that, despite popular belief, Kuzma isn’t always going to be lights out from the field. Hopefully this performance cements that in his mind, especially with Coach Luke making it a priority to remind him that he’ll need to impact the game in ways beyond scoring if he wants to be an elite player.