This season has been different for Kyle Kuzma. For the first time in his young career, Kuzma started the season on the injury report after suffering a stress reaction while competing for a spot on Team USA’s 12-man FIBA Basketball World Cup roster in August. When he finally made his return for the Los Angeles Lakers in November, he returned as a reserve.
Kuzma has started each of the previous two seasons on the bench, but in both of those seasons, he ended up starting at least half of the games he played. This season — with LeBron James and Anthony Davis slotted at the 3 and 4, respectively — a permanent starting job isn’t in Kuzma’s future.
For someone that’s used to playing over 30 minutes a night, attempting more than 10 field goals per game and closing games, a bench role can be a tough adjustment, and Kuzma admitted so himself during an interview with Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times. However, he said that his teammates have helped him understand that his role, while smaller, is crucial to the team’s title aspirations this season:
“That’s just part of sacrifice and trying to be on a winning team,” he said. “Obviously, it’s hard sometimes when you’re a young player wanting to continue to establish yourself and see you measure up across the league. In certain situations, you have the opportunities to just play. It’s hard sometimes — naturally.
“But I’ve got good vets around me, keep things in perspective. I have an opportunity to win a ring in my third year. Sometimes, I just have to catch myself, realize.”
Kuzma’s done a decent job of adjusting so far, averaging 11.7 points per game on the highest true shooting percentage (57.2%) of his career. He’s also rediscovered his shooting stroke from his rookie season, shooting 47.5% from behind the arc while attempting four 3-pointers per game. During that stretch, he’s converted 50% of his 32 total catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, according to NBA.com.
Kuzma might not be getting as much playing time as he did as a starter in his first two seasons, but he’s been more efficient in the minutes he’s played this season. That’s huge considering Kuzma was considered a volume scorer going into his third year.
As long as Kuzma stays productive in his new role, the Lakers should continue to enjoy the success they have been and if that happens, it would be hard for anyone to be too upset — especially if that success carries into the postseason.