Since being drafted with the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, Kyle Kuzma has established himself as a go-to scorer.
Through 141 games, Kuzma has averaged 17.2 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting from the field, including 33.8 percent from behind the arc on 5.7 3-point attempts per game. He’s ranked second among second-year players in total career points, trailing only Donovan Mitchell, who was drafted 14 spots ahead of him.
However, outside of scoring, Kuzma’s game has left a lot to be desired. Despite displaying more effort on the defensive end this season, Kuzma is just about as bad of a defender as he was last season. According to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, Kuzma is ranked 83rd out of 96 eligible power forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (-0.71). Last season, he was ranked 76th out of 83.
Kuzma’s been decent on the boards, averaging 4.9 rebounds per game for his career, but it’s not enough for him to shake the “one dimensional” label. The one area he’s shown notable improvement in over the last few games has been playmaking.
Over his last two games, Kuzma has racked up 18 assists, which is more than anyone on the Lakers, including the team’s starting point guard Rajon Rondo. That’s an extremely small sample size, but it’s not a trend that should be ignored — at least not yet.
Following the Lakers’ loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday, in which Kuzma dished out eight assists, the 23-year-old forward said he wants to continue to try and make plays for others (via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times):
“I want to become a good player, and have an overall game,” Kuzma said. “Everybody’s really looking at me to shoot all the time, from a defensive standpoint. I’m now seeing that, seeing my teammates are open. And it’s funner like that.”
If Kuzma continues to grow as a playmaker, defenses will have to anticipate the bucket and the pass. Right now, they’re only doing the former, which makes Kuzma easier to guard.
While it’s still important for Kuzma to develop into a respectable defender, his passing is his best path to getting to another level as a player. The good news is that he seems to recognize that.
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