Few players over the last few years have captured the attention and excitement of Los Angeles Lakers fans the way Kyle Kuzma has. It’s led to some extraordinary hype given the season he had a year ago. Even the Lakers seemed to value him above Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball (two former No. 2 overall picks) in negotiations for Anthony Davis.
If Kuzma is going to live up to all that hype, he’s going to have to improve, and by quite a bit. He shot only 30 percent from three last year (a significant drop from the 36 percent he shot as a rookie), and if he’s going to fit into lineups featuring Davis and LeBron James, he’ll have to return to his rookie form.
Fortunately, he understands this as well as anyone, as he told Cari Champion of ESPN when she asked what he was focused on this summer:
“My shooting. That’s the biggest thing. I didn’t really shoot the ball well last year like I wanted to, but this year, I kind of always had moves, but I didn’t really know how to shoot out of those moves. So just learning those techniques, (next year) should be fun.”
If I was to pick nits, I’d argue that he doesn’t need to focus as much on “moves” as he should on simply hitting open catch-and-shoot threes, but the summer is long enough to focus on several things and, as he improves in that regard, he’ll have to attack the harder closeouts those improvements will lead to.
Statistically speaking, there are reasons to believe Kuzma is heading towards a bounce-back season from three, though. Despite his decline from deep, Kuzma actually shot just slightly better from the field than he did a year ago (45.6 percent versus 45 percent) and saw a significant improvement from the free-throw line (75 percent compared to 71 percent).
Free-throws are about as solid a predictor of shooting ability as just about anything, and his step forward in that respect is probably the best place to start if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about Kuzma.
An altogether fair question to ask, however, is why his improvement at the line didn’t translate more immediately elsewhere on the court. Well, there are any number of explanations.
First and foremost, Kuzma’s shot selection wasn’t great last season. Unfortunately, his knack for mimicking anything Kobe Bryant did (like biting on his jersey) didn’t stop at weird quirks. Kuzma made life way too hard on himself when he really didn’t have to, and all the misses probably threw off his rhythm.
As those misses mounted, Kuzma has admitted after the fact to tinkering a little too much with his jumper, something any and all golfers can relate to. These minor changes here and there make it damn near impossible to find a repeatable shooting motion, thus severely hampering his consistency.
There’s also the psychological factor to consider too. When you’re playing alongside James, you know that each shot you take is going to be more important than they were when you were a rookie with little to no expectations. There’s no way to know this definitively, but it seems altogether likely that the aforementioned misses and mounting pressure took a toll and had a quicksand-esque impact on Kuzma.
Combine all that with how regularly he was asked to play out of position and how that might affect his rhythm, and last season’s struggles might finally start to be fully conceptualized.
The more Kuzma struggled to get through slumps by tinkering and overcompensating, or by taking any and all shots he could to prove he wasn’t doubting himself, the deeper he seemed to sink into those stretches where it felt like nothing would fall. We’ve all been there, and it’s about as low as a shooter can feel.
Hopefully, though, a full offseason removed from all that and countless (mostly filmed) workouts later, Kuzma can at least get back to how he played as a rookie, and maybe even surpass that production from deep. If he does that, he’ll have a chance at living up to the hype the fan base gives him.
I mean, to be clear, to actually live up to the hype, he’ll have to retire with a statue waiting for him outside the building, but this at least would be a step in the right direction.