Last season was different for Kyle Kuzma. Not particularly bad; not especially good; just different.
In his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kuzma was one of the go-to guys on offense, and his production justified that role. Prior to last season, he had never averaged fewer than 15 points per game, and in his sophomore season, he averaged 18.7 points per game on 45.6% shooting from the field. He looked like a rising star, albeit an imperfect one.
Last season, Kuzma’s role shrunk significantly as a result of Anthony Davis’ arrival. The hope was that Kuzma would adapt to his new role and become the unquestioned third-best player behind LeBron James and Davis, but those hopes never came to fruition.
Could this be the year that Kuzma gets back on track? That all depends on what role Kuzma has with this year’s team, and he’s not sure that that’s going to look like yet.
“I mean, you never truly know until the ball goes up and the season starts going, so we’ll see,” Kuzma said this week. “It’s ultimately what Frank views me as, and we’ll see.”
Whatever role Kuzma has with the Lakers next season, he wants to be a factor on the defensive end. Kuzma showed growth in that area last season, but he recognizes that he still has room to grow.
“I just want to build on what I did in the playoffs from a defensive standpoint,” Kuzma said. “Just take those steps as a defender, just improve my all around game. That’s just always the process every offseason, every time, you always try to just build on what you did last season and just improve.”
If Kuzma rediscovers hit shooting stroke from his rookie season, that would obviously be great. And if he settles in a role that allows him to stuff the stat sheet on a regular basis once again, that would be even better.
But the days of Kuzma feeling like he needs to prove something are over for him. He’s won at the highest level and he knows what it takes. For him, it’s all about building on all of the things he learned last season.
“At the end of the day, you’re a winner, and that’s something no one can ever take away from you,” Kuzma said. “It just motivates you in a different type of way.”
And hey, if it gets him the extension he's looking for, all the better.