Kyle Kuzma has been less than stellar for the Los Angeles Lakers to start the season. As soon as it looks like he has it all figured out, he does something that fuels his skeptics’ concerns.
For example, on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, Kuzma made a season-high three 3-pointers, all of which came during a fourth quarter stretch where the Lakers were in need of a few big baskets. Then, with the game within reach, Kuzma missed back-to-back open 3-pointers and allowed Pascal Siakam to score on the other end.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise promising performance from Kuzma, but he nor the Lakers are too worried about it. After the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors, head coach Frank Vogel said he’s empathetic towards Kuzma, who didn’t get to play in the preseason due to a stress reaction he suffered while playing for Team USA in August.
“He’s still finding his way. Offensively, within our system, where his shots are gonna come (from),” Vogel said. “Being assertive but not too assertive.
“And then defensively, within our coverages, you know he’s been pretty good defensively up to tonight. [Kuzma] had some good stretches tonight, but you know he’s still in the process of getting his legs under him, getting his rhythm and timing on both ends of the floor.”
Vogel’s right: Going into Sunday’s game, Kuzma had the third-highest defensive rating on the team behind Alex Caruso and Danny Green. Obviously four games is a small sample size, but you’d be hard pressed to find any four-game stretch where Kuzma was one of the three best defenders on the Lakers over the last two years.
Offensively is where Kuzma has struggled the most. Through five games, Kuzma has averaged 10.2 points per game on 39.6% shooting from the field, including 20% shooting from behind the arc.
But Kuzma’s low shooting percentages aren’t a result of him forcing bad shots, which is why Avery Bradley thinks it’s too soon to worry about the third-year forward’s shooting struggles.
“I mean those are good shots,” Bradley said. “Those are shots that we want Kuz to take for our team. He’s a very capable scorer, one of the main scorers on this team. We couldn’t ask for better looks, especially down the stretch. With plays for Kuz, wide open threes, he’s gonna knock those down majority of the time.”
Kuzma doesn’t sound overly-concerned about his struggles from 3-point territory, either.
“I mean it happens. You can’t make every shot. So I don’t really care, honestly,” Kuzma said.
The problem is that Kuzma is getting good looks and missing them on a regular basis since he’s returned. According to NBA.com, Kuzma has shot 22.2% percent from the field on 3-point attempts that were “open” or “wide open.” This would be less of a concern if Kuzma didn’t also shoot poorly (30.9%) on open and wide open 3-point attempts last season.
No, you can’t make every shot, but you can make more than 30% of the good ones.
There’s hope that someone that works as hard as Kuzma does will figure it out eventually, but there are also a ton of reasons to be skeptical of Kuzma’s potential as a shooter, and if he continues to struggle from behind the arc, his fit with this Lakers team becomes difficult to manage.
For Kuzma’s sake — and the Lakers’ — let’s hope he gets better with time.