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Lakers News: Kyle Kuzma wants to improve his defense

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If he can do so, it will be hard for his coaches to not play him.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Even the most-hyped rookies don’t often make an actual impact on their team in the win column, and especially not less-heralded ones that nearly fell in the second round of the NBA Draft, for one simple reason: Young players are usually horrible at defense.

That may not be the case for Los Angeles Lakers rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, who actually flashed some impressive defense at times during Las Vegas Summer League, but the rookie knows he still has a lot of room for improvement on that end.

“Defense,” Kuzma told Ryan Ward of Clutch Points when asked what he wanted to get better at during his debut NBA season. “I want to be a great two-way player in this league, and I think I have the ability to do that. Just getting stronger and keep adding range on my jump shot.”

If Kuzma can continue to add range to his jumpshot it would certainly help both the pairing with Lonzo Ball he loves so much and convince the Lakers coaching staff to play him more, although defense is likely going to help him make more headway with the latter group.

Kuzma showed potential to defend wings and power forwards in Las Vegas, but that’s all he showed: Potential. It wasn’t like Kuzma was locking up every player he faced, and drawing too many takeaways from a bit of summer league defense is dangerous anyway because summer league is only barely basketball.

There is also the matter of the Lakers’ crowded frontcourt limiting Kuzma’s chances for playing time. The power forward slot also features young players in Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. as well as Luol Deng being better playing there than at small forward. And all of that is without mentioning that Brandon Ingram may eventually warrant time at the four as well, although that may not be this season.

That being said, if Kuzma can show that the aggressiveness he demonstrated in Las Vegas is no fluke and that he can really defend NBA threes and fours, he’ll quickly get into Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton’s good graces (and likely his rotation as well). It seems unlikely Kuzma will be able to do so right off of the bat, but it also seemed unlikely he’d win the Finals MVP of Las Vegas Summer League too, so he has experience blowing expectations out of the water.

Beyond this season, Kuzma does appear to have the physical frame and tools to be a plus defender at the NBA level, which means the Lakers may have once again found a gem later in the draft. At the very least, Kuzma certainly seems to be intent on making that possibility a certainty.

Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.