For the second time in his two-year career, Kyle Kuzma was one of the two leading scorers for the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s also ranked second among players drafted in 2017 in total career points just behind former No. 13 pick and Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell. Not too shabby for someone that was considered a fringe first-round prospect going into the draft.
However, the one thing that Kuzma has failed to do at the NBA level is defend. Last season, Kuzma posted the second-worst defensive box plus-minus (-1.3) of anyone that played at least 20 games for the Lakers. Rookie Svi Mykhailiuk ranked last. He also allowed the second-most points per 100 possessions behind Mykhailiuk.
If Kuzma can’t defend at the forward position, he’s going to be a liability on the court when the postseason rolls around and could lose minutes to someone like Jared Dudley, who was an above league average defender with the Brooklyn Nets last season. Kuzma seems to understand that, and he told reporters what he’s doing to improve on defense after his practice with Team USA on Tuesday (via ESPN):
What did you do to improve your defense? You looked a little good out here. They let us watch for like three minutes. What kind of strategies did you use to improve your defense, Kyle?
Get in shape, that’s one thing. Just making sure that I’m not getting tired and just making an effort. Trying to be physical and trust my feet—my mind, too—watching film. A little bit of everything.
Granted, Kuzma said all of the same things last summer and was actually a worse defender than he was during his rookie season but with another summer under his belt, there’s at least a possibility that he’s developing better habits on the defensive end.
Fans will get to see just how much Kuzma has improved on Friday, when USA Basketball holds their white vs. blue scrimmage at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The scrimmage will be televised on NBA TV at 7 p.m. PT.