During what was his first offseason in the NBA, Kyle Kuzma made a concentrated effort to become better on the defensive end. He put in work in the weight room to get stronger and spent time in the film room to try and correct his mistakes. That effort is starting to show results, and it’s earning him praise from his coaches.
In an interview with Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated, head coach Luke Walton and assistant coach Miles Simon said that they’ve been impressed with the strides Kuzma made on the defensive end:
This is a theme with Kuzma. “He’s different from most young players,” says Simon. “You can coach him hard. Like really hard.” Kuzma’s progress has been most obvious on defense. “Last year he was one of the worst defensive players we had,” says Walton. He’s since reduced his “happy feet,” as Simon puts it, using his size to influence quicker players and worrying less about anticipating their moves. As a result, the Lakers have tasked him with both posts and wings this year, including what Walton calls “some f------ big-time matchups,” citing Thompson and Karl-Anthony Towns.
However, while Kuzma’s effort on the defensive end has paid off for him in crucial situations, he’s actually a slightly worse defender this season than he was last season, at least statistically.
Last season, Kuzma posted a defensive rating of 107. This season, he’s posting a defensive rating of 108.4, but because he’s been even better offensively this season, it hasn’t always seemed that way.
Still, Kuzma’s obsession with becoming a good defender gives fans hope that, at the very least, he won’t be a complete liability on the defensive end in late-game or potential playoff situations — if not this year, then soon.
If Kuzma can play respectable defense while averaging close to 20 points per game and showing steady growth as a playmaker, he has a bright future in this league. It seems like he's trying to get there, which is worth recognizing even if the numbers don't reflect it yet.