I saw some Boris Diaw in Kyle Kuzma’s game when I watched his college tape. He was an agile ball-handler for his size, with good court vision and playmaking ability. But Kuz had other, “you will know my name by the end of this year” designs for his rookie season with the Lakers, in which he averaged nearly as many points (16.1) as he did in his final season at Utah (16.4).
The desire to make your mark is understandable when you’re the 27th pick in the draft. Solid rotational defense and quick ball movement may endear you to your coaching staff, but it’s not gonna get you that love from Dawkins or House of Highlights.
Kuzma had the latitude to test his limits as a scorer during a year where player development was more important than anything else for the Lakers and took full advantage. Such seasons don’t exist when LeBron James is on the team and like all new love, the infatuation period doesn’t last forever. Kuzma entered the 2018-19 with expectations beyond just being a surprise, late-first round pick who can hoop a bit.
After an uneven start where his 3-point shot wasn’t falling and a predictably unsuccessful foray as a small-ball 5, Kuzma has emerged as both a defender and passer. Let’s take a closer look at how the playmaking ability that he showed at Utah is beginning to manifest itself in the NBA.
Kuzma has unlocked this portion of his game with a mentality shift.
“Recently I really haven’t thought about scoring too much because I know that comes naturally,” Kuzma said. “I’m really just trying to defend, rebound and try to find my teammates because I know scoring is going to be there.”
Those are the words of a player who’s becoming comfortable in his own skin and the role that he’s playing. Kuzma is somewhat misperceived because he’s cast as a power forward. His skill set on both sides of the ball is that of a wing who has some utility on their interior, rather than a big with perimeter skills. The more certain he feels about his scoring, the more he’ll display those other traits while simply taking what the defense is giving him.
If he continues to do that, his ceiling becomes higher than ever before... and so does the Lakers’.