Kyle Kuzma has slowly but surely finding his footing as the third option of the Los Angeles Lakers behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Operating in that role can be legitimately complicated, and a grand total of two people on the face of the planet (Kevin Love and Chris Bosh) fully understand what kind of task lies ahead for Kuzma as he tries to figure it out.
Love was asked by Arash Markazi of the L.A. Times if he had any advice for Kuzma, and he gave a very thoughtful answer:
“The key with being that third guy is taking advantage of the opportunity,” Love said. “When you’re the third guy, you know you’re going to sacrifice. When I got to Cleveland I joined two ball-dominant guys, so I had to find where I fit. I had to master my role on the team and know that I had to do other things that didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
“When you have a chance to win a championship, there’s going to be some sacrifice.”
Fortunately for Kuzma, Kobe Bryant learned from a Bruce Lee movie that less is more and relayed that message, so he’s well on his way to understanding this role, no problem.
Love and Bryant do make fair and pertinent points, though. In minutes Kuzma spends on the court with either or both of James and Davis, chances are he won’t be the Lakers’ most efficient way to score. This obviously isn’t a knock on him — he just happens to play with two surefire Hall of Famers.
So what Kuzma has to learn to do — and this isn’t easy for young players who’ve mostly grown up as the focal point of every team they’ve ever been on — is learn to operate with very little time on the ball. In those situations, he’ll have one or two dribbles, tops, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
Over his last five games, Kuzma is shooting 46.4% from three. If he continues to hit at anything close to that clip, then teams are going to start running him off the line with aggressive closeouts. The harder defenders close out, the easier it becomes to dribble by them, and in plays like that, all Kuzma would need is a dribble or two in order to either get all the way to the basket, pull-up for an open midrange jumper, or rotate the ball to another shooter as the defense shifts to cover for the guy he got by.
In some ways, Kuzma might actually be somewhat better equipped than either Bosh or Love to play this role. He’s never been the best player on an NBA team before, and thus doesn’t have to relearn too much, and his skillset as a wing player is a little easier to mold into whatever role he needs to compared to the positions Bosh or Love played.
Now, he isn’t nearly as talented as either Love or Bosh, which has to be pointed out, but again, that might make it a little easier to pigeonhole him into this third option role than it was for the legitimate stars that Love and Bosh were to figure things out upon teaming up with James.
How Kuzma develops into the kind of player who fits alongside James and Davis is going to go a long way in setting the ceiling for this Lakers team. The process itself will be fascinating to watch, and if he makes it work, the Lakers could win the same championship Love once sacrificed for in Cleveland.