Heading into the season, or more precisely once the Lakers finished constructing their roster, the biggest question surrounding the team was a singular one — where will the 3-point shooting come from?
Now, with only 14 games left to go in what has been a tumultuous year, and the team sporting the second worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league (only 0.2 percent better than the league-worse Phoenix Suns) the answer to that question seemingly continues to be sought after by the coaching staff on a nightly basis.
Yes, the perplexing veterans and their checkered perimeter pasts that the team’s front office paired with LeBron James played a role in the struggles, but the Lakers also banked on their young core to take significant strides this season in this aspect given their surprisingly solid numbers last year. This also did not work out.
Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart each shot over 36 percent from three in the 2017-18 campaign. This year, neither of the three have passed the 33.7 percent threshold.
For Kuzma, L.A.’s ultra-confident offensive weapon last season, his sophomore shooting slump may be the most glaring and damaging of them all. And he seemingly has been well aware of it.
In a recent interview with Kevin Ding of Lakers.com, the 23-year-old detailed his frustration with his outside shot this year, and also revealed the surprising amount of thought process he tackles during each jumper:
“I changed it literally six times this year. It was ridiculous,” he said. “It’s really crazy. It’s not even me changing it. It’s just like me changing little things like: ‘OK, you’ve got to land like this every time.’ Or ‘You’ve got to hold this tight every time.’ Or ‘You’ve got to flick it more every time.’ It’s always something different where it may work for a couple games, and I kind of get sidetracked, and it goes back.”
Kuzma’s comments were 1) honest, and 2) resonate as a player who has been in his own head of late, or as Benny Rodriguez once bluntly put it: “thinking too much.” This notion has been backed up both on tape, and in Kuzma’s numbers.
This season we have seen far less of this (watch Kuzma’s swagger here and try to think up an immediate example like it this year):
And unfortunately more of this:
The instances in which Kuzma has heated up from behind the arc have been few and far between in year two, and he revealed to Ding that waning confidence may have played a role:
“Last year, I think I had a more consistent, confident level of my shot to where I’m just doing this every time and I’m not even thinking about how my feet got to land every time, where I’m just doing it natural.”
For a player who is often second guessing or frequently reminding himself of shot mechanics prior to the release, the theoretical worst possible situation to be put in is in instances that allow for that extra second of contemplation. Or in other words, in catch-and-shoot scenarios.
Kuzma has attempted the tenth-most catch-and-shoot threes (313) in the league this season, but unfortunately has the worst 3-point percentage among the top-ten players in attempts at a rough 32.6 percent. That number is a far cry from his rookie season shooting of 37.5 percent.
To make matters worse, in situations in which he has had at least six-feet of space from his nearest defender — aka been classified as “wide-open” — Kuzma, who has attempted the ninth-most threes in this category in the NBA is also shooting the worst among the current top ten at 32.1 percent.
However, while Kuzma’s outside shooting has not been to the level he and the team wished it were at this season, there are still enough indicators present to remain optimistic he can turn it around going forward, Namely due to him performing well in two areas that are often predictive of future 3-point shooting success: Free-throw percentage and touch.
Kuzma is shooting a solid 75 percent from the charity stripe this season, and has showcased exceptional touch at and around the rim. According to Synergy, Kuzma is in the 94th percentile of the league in “runners,” as he is scoring a fantastic 1.14 points per possession in these attempts.
It also doesn’t hurt that he will possibly continue to play beside James, whose gravitational pull this season has helped generate such solid looks for Kuzma already, and likely will continue to do so.
Although this season as a whole, and by extension the team’s 3-point shooting, have not been anywhere near where many would have hoped for prior to the year, the only real direction left to go from here is up. Or as Kuzma simply put it to Ding.
“It’ll happen, I know it will.”
The Lakers will need it to, and there is no reason to doubt that Kuzma will work hard enough to make it happen.