After failing to reach the playoffs in their first season with LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers will regroup and try to build a championship contender this summer. While the first step in that process will start in free agency, there’s work to be done with the current roster as well.
The Lakers’ young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart all improved in their own ways this past season, but they still have a ton of room to grow on both ends of the floor. Take Kuzma for example.
Despite not being able to knock down 3-pointers with any consistency last season, Kuzma still managed to average a career-high 18.7 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting from the field (which is also a career-high) . He ranked fourth among sophomores in points per game and 13th among players under 25 years old.
His defense, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired once again. Of 100 eligible players at power forward, Kyle Kuzma ranked 85th in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He also posted the fourth-worst defensive rating (109.4) of any Laker to play at least 10 games this season. Rajon Rondo posted the worst, allowing 112.8 points per 100 possessions.
Luckily, it sounds like Kuzma is going to do everything he can to improve on that end this summer. In an interview with ESPN LA on Tuesday, former Defensive Player of the Year, NBA champion and Lakers fan favorite Metta World Peace said that Kuzma has reached out to him about working on his defense:
“@kylekuzma hit me up about some defense this summer. I was so proud of him because he’s not a lock down defender, but when you call Metta World Peace, I’m like ‘wow you want to be a good defender’”— ShowtimeForum (@ShowtimeForum) May 28, 2019
@MettaWorldPeace | @ESPNLosAngeles pic.twitter.com/F3ntzQStxm
World Peace joined the South Bay Lakers as a player development assistant in 2017, but he wasn’t with the team this past season, so it wasn’t like Kuzma just walked across the hall and asked him for help — he actively sought him out. We’ve seen Kuzma do this in the past with other former Lakers like Kobe Bryant.
Working with World Peace might not make Kuzma an All-NBA defender overnight, but it at least shows that he’s dedicated to improving on that end of the floor. That’s going to be key to him getting minutes next season, especially if the Lakers luck into a defensive stalwart like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler in free agency.
Does he need to be elite on the defensive end to get playing time next season? No, but in order for his offensive output to get the time to stand out, he needs to be respectable on the other end. Hopefully working alongside World Peace will help him take a step in that direction.