Of all the “young core” players on the Los Angeles Lakers, arguably none have submersed themselves in the franchise’s illustrious and extensive lore more than Kyle Kuzma.
From wearing a throwback Nick Van Exel jersey to a game last season to reaching out to Kobe Bryant for advice just a few months after being drafted, Kuzma has fully bought in to life as a Laker.
In an interview on “Lakers Talk with Allen Sliwa,” Kuzma said that playing for a storied franchise like the Lakers pushes him to be a better player.
“Just to play for the Lakers organization is a big enough motivation. You look in the rafters and you see the Elgin Baylors, the Kobes, the Shaqs, the Wilt Chamberlains, the Kareems. It goes endlessly, and for me I want to be a great player, and it’s a little bit easier get that recognition and be a great player when you’re playing for a franchise like this.”
Joining that long list of Basketball Hall-of-Fame names this summer was LeBron James.
Kuzma’s only been playing with James for less than three months, but he said he’s already learned a lot from playing with James and quality veterans like Rajon Rondo.
“Just that every possession matters,” Kuzma said of what he’s learned. “You can never take a possession off in the NBA because it can hurt you. Building those championship habits every single game, every single practice.
“What those guys do to take care of their bodies, how early they come in to get their work in prior, it really speaks volumes about their careers. You don’t play 10-plus years in the NBA by just sitting on your couch and not doing work.”
Kuzma’s work ethic hasn’t been called into question since he entered the league last season, but he hasn’t made the leap many fans were hoping he would from playing alongside generational playmakers like James and Rondo. Through 16 games this season, Kuzma’s per game averages are nearly identical to last year’s.
While his field goal percentage has improved to 47.6 percent from 45 percent, his 3-point percentage has taken a nose dive, going from 36.6 percent to 29.6 percent. He has also regressed as a rebounder, grabbing 4.8 rebounds this year compared to 6.3 caroms last year.
Perhaps that’s more of a testament to how impressive his rookie season was, but fans were hoping Kuzma would emerge as a clear No. 2 option to James in his sophomore season. There’s still plenty of time for Kuzma to prove his critics wrong — and with his work ethic, there’s no doubt he will try to — but it hasn’t been an ideal start to the season for the 23-year-old.
Here’s to hoping Kuzma can turn things around and be the player he wants to be by the time the postseason rolls around. If there’s anyone outside of LeBron James that can go off for a big game on basketball’s biggest stage, it’s Kuzma.
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