Going into next season, expectations will by sky high for the Los Angeles Lakers and they’ll be especially high for third-year forward Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma is the last man standing from the team’s once-rich young core after the Anthony Davis trade and while there is a lot to like about his game offensively, he leaves a lot be desired on the defensive end.
Last season, Kuzma ranked 75th out of 89 eligible power forwards in defensive real plus-minus, according to ESPN. He also posted a defensive rating of 112, a three-point decrease from his rookie season and the second-worst defensive rating on the team, according to Basketball Reference.
In layman’s terms, he was bad, but the word on the street is that he’s made serious strides on the defensive end in the offseason.
After practice with Team USA at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo on Wednesday, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told Allen Sliwa of ESPN’s “Lakers Talk” that he’s been impressed with the effort Kuzma has shown on defense during practices and scrimmages with USA Basketball:
“He’s doing well. He’s picked it up on the defensive end. Everybody knows what he can do on the offensive end but defensively, he’s taken it to another level. He’s talking, communicating … finding other ways to improve whether it’s communication, whether it’s stepping in and taking charges, being willing to guard the best forward on the other team. That’s what I’ve noticed about him, for sure.”
A lot of the same was said about Kuzma last season, so there’s plenty of room for skepticism, but for the less cynical there is also room for optimism. We’ll find out which side is proven right sooner rather than later.