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Laker Film Room: Kyle Kuzma’s defense

Kyle Kuzma spent much of the summer trying to become a better defender to expand his role on the Lakers. How has he done so far?

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NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Kuzma had a rookie season for the Los Angeles Lakers that was more fun than functional. The 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft surprised everyone but himself by landing a spot on the All-Rookie First Team, but his defensive struggles prevented him from positively impacting wins and losses. Such is life for most rookies.

This season is different. Kuzma is no longer found money where the organization can afford to take a “beggars can’t be choosers” approach toward their expectations for him. He’s now an integral part of a team that aspires to a deep playoff run and needs to become a much better defender than he was as a rookie.

Let’s take a closer look at where he’s improved on the defensive end, and what the next steps are for him.

Luke Walton played Kuzma at center for stretches during the preseason to get him an appropriate number of minutes in a crowded frontcourt. Kuzma mostly struggled there, but I was pleasantly surprised by his defense in situations outside of when he was playing the five. He was much better in isolation, where he still skips his feet and is prone to changes of direction, but also demonstrated the quickness and reflexes that benefit him on the offensive end.

The next step in Kuzma’s defensive progression is more mental than physical. He was often in a different coverage than his teammates, leading to “I thought you had him, no I thought YOU had him” moments in which they’ve both gone to defend the same player, leaving another wide open.

Kuzma’s heart is in the right place, and the effort is definitely there — which wasn’t always the case last season — but Kuzma’s ability to understand and identify defensive reads needs to improve to maximize his potential.

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