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Luke Walton credited Kyle Kuzma for shooting ‘500 jumpers’ in the Lakers practice facility on an off-day for career-high performance

Kyle Kuzma went off against his hometown Detroit Pistons, and Luke Walton said it was the work the young forward put in Tuesday that paid dividends.

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NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Kuzma lit up his hometown Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night, dropping 41 points on a mere 24 field goal attempts. He did this the game after going 4-20 in a Monday night in Dallas. Luke Walton was asked after the game about Kuzma’s effort, and said it wasn’t a coincidence.

Despite an ailing back, Kuzma had been right back in the gym on an off day.

“It speaks to his confidence and how much he believes in himself, but what a lot of people don’t know is that even though yesterday was an off day, he was in the gym getting up 500 shots,” Walton told reporters after the blowout victory.

Walton credited Kuzma for using that time to work on improving his shooting stroke and practicing his form on his jumper to try and make it better after noticing some problems with it on film.

“It’s not like he just had a hot night, he came in and put in that work and then had a really nice night,” Walton said.

Kuzma’s head coach did have one complaint about his game, however.

“He had 0 assists, which he and I have talked about,” Walton half-joked.

It’s impossible to say right now whether this was a concerted effort, but Kuzma’s shot did look visibly smoother after a fairly rough first quarter. An underrated aspect of this season has been Kuzma’s somewhat disappointing shooting, but it really seemed as if the game slowed down for him against Detroit.

Given the type of passers across this Lakers roster, Kuzma is going to have plenty of opportunities at open threes. If he finds any kind of rhythm whatsoever, the Lakers offense could really start to make a lot of sense, especially with LeBron James coming back soon.

As much attention will be paid to Kuzma’s explosive scoring, he thoroughly outplayed Blake Griffin Wednesday night. For the first time in Griffin’s career, he failed to grab a single rebound. Kuzma obviously isn’t singlehandedly responsible for shutting him out, but that’s quite the stat.

Walton noticed this, too, and again pointed to the work Kuzma does during off-hours.

“He has (that type of defense) in him. He’s not there yet, but he wants that challenge of being a defender,” he explained. “We’ve talked to him about that and showed him the film. He asks veterans, he asks guys on other teams for advice on how to get better. He talked to Draymond (Green). And he studies film, and he works and he works and he works.

“Tonight I thought he did a really nice job. He’s definitely made huge strides and we think he’ll continue to make those type of strides.”

This is going to be the difference between Kuzma being merely a nice scoring option for the Lakers and being a legitimately valuable role player on a championship-caliber team. The playoffs are all about teams figuring out weaknesses over the course of a seven-game series. If Kuzma remained a liability on that end, it might be tough to take advantage of his scoring ability on the other.

Fortunately, it seems he’s willing to put in the work to continue to improve all over the court. If you’re to believe his coach, more performances like Wednesday might be on the way.

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