With Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram done for the season, the main reason left to watch Los Angeles Lakers games is to see how much growth Kyle Kuzma can show.
Sure, there are other reasons to tune in — The Andre Ingram story! How is Moe Wagner doing? — but the main thing to look for is to see if Kuzma can continue to build on the admirable showing he’s had as a No. 2 option to LeBron James so far.
And if you do deign to watch, it seems like you’ll get a pretty good show, at least if Kuzma has anything to say about it. There might not be a lot to like about the way this season has gone for the Lakers as a whole, but Kuzma improving his efficiency and production in nearly every box score category outside of 3-point percentage has undoubtedly been a highlight, and he told Kevin Ding of Lakers.com that he’s focused on getting even better:
“I criticize myself after every game about little things,” Kuzma said. “Every game, I try to think of three things I could’ve done better—and then just blank the game out. I may score 40; I still try to think of something I could’ve done better. Then that game’s over, and I’m on to the next one.
“Two hours after the game, just try to think, try to knock it out. What I’ve learned is you can’t really stay on a high horse, can’t really dwell on a part of the season. Games come fast; you play every other day, so you can’t go into the next game thinking about some [expletive] you did in the past game. You’ve got the next game coming. It’s really helped my confidence—staying where I need to stay.”
That’s a good mindset for Kuzma to take, especially as a volume shooter who is going to have the occasional and unavoidable off night — all players with as much responsibility as he has are due for those occasionally. Not getting too high or too low can at least help Kuzma stay the course no matter how he’s playing.
And other than a healthy approach to the game, Kuzma’s film sessions have also left him with a few other key takeaways:
“I’ve still got to slow down on offense,” he said. “I still play a hundred miles per hour sometimes. I have games or I have streaks in the games where I’m slow, and I’m trying to stay in that mental mind state. And there are games or possessions the next quarter, I just start speeding up again.
“I’ve shown I’ve been able to score a lot now with my head cut off. So when I have it neutralized and controlled and the dust settles, I think that I can do anything efficiency-wise.”
“I’ve shown I’ve been able to score a lot now with my head cut off” is an all-time quote in the book of blunt self-assessments. Never let it be said that Kuzma can’t be honest about his performance.
In all honesty, though, Kuzma has been far less of a chicken with its head cut off this season, demonstrating an understanding of timing and speed that he didn’t have as a rookie. His game has always been smooth, but now it seems to slot smoothly in alongside a No. 1 option, which is good news for Kuzma’s long-term fit with James (provided the Lakers don’t trade Kuzma this summer, of course).
Whether it’s with the Lakers or not, it remains to be seen how great Kuzma can be long-term. All that’s clear is that no matter how good he ultimately does or doesn’t become, it won’t be for a lack of work ethic.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.