Jared Dudley made an appearance on teammate Danny Green’s podcast, “Inside the Green Room,” with Green and co-host Harrison Sanford this week. The whole thing is a fun look inside the team, and worth a watch for any Lakers fan that has the time:
One thing that stood out from the interview, though — aside from what Dudley had to say about Rajon Rondo’s role with the Lakers — was his candid breakdown of why he thinks Kyle Kuzma hasn’t underperformed as much as many people think.
You can watch the clip of just what Dudley had to say on Kuzma here if you want. Let’s break it down:
“If you look at all teams LeBron has been on when he’s teamed with another superstar — D-Wade, Kyrie — the third person, it takes a while. Now the difference with the other two people — Bosh and Kevin Love — is they’re starting. When Kyle Kuzma starts, he’s averaging like 23 points. His field-goal percentage is up, his 3-point percentage is up, because you get more options, you get more minutes, you’re more in the flow.”
As a quick fact check to where things currently stand — since this was recorded a week or so ago before releasing — Kuzma is averaging 20.3 points per game as a starter, and Dudley is right about his percentages, shots and minutes all going up as a starter, according to NBA.com.
All right, let’s continue. Take it away, Dudz:
“He’s playing behind Anthony Davis. So now you’re limited on sometimes [Frank Vogel] plays him at the three, sometimes we go small-ball, but it’s never a consistent flow because let’s say Anthony Davis plays for 12 minutes and has 12 points. It’s hard to get in that flow.
“So what Kyle has done tremendously when you watch his film of the last 10 games is his rebounding is up almost double. He is crashing the boards, he’s rebounding it. He’s playmaking a lot better than he was. Now he’s turning the ball over a little bit more, but it’s a give or take on ‘hey, we want to improve this before the playoffs in 25 games.’ Defensively he’s been so much better.”
Kuzma was rebounding his ass off a few weeks ago — likely what Dudley was referencing when this was recorded — but over the last 10 games specifically, Kuzma is averaging the same number of rebounds as he has on the season. He is averaging one more assist per game over that timeframe, per NBA.com, and 0.1 more turnovers, which would seem to be a worthy trade off. His defensive rating has significantly improved as well.
So Dudley is basically right on here, and continued with more context on why this adjustment hasn’t been the easiest for Kuzma, but why the sacrifices will be worth it for him:
“So for someone like that who’s now a third option, one of our most talented young guys, and now you’re coming off the bench... Hey let’s be honest, last year when they played with young guys, it’s bad basketball. I’ve played on a lot of young teams, you don’t play the right way. We play the right way, so he might not get a shot for five or six minutes because the ball has been moving and we’ve been in transition.
“So for him, it’s keep with the film, keep your high energy, keep making the right shots. Because maybe you only average 12 points this year instead of 17, but if we win the championship, you’re going to get paid the same amount of money... We have bigger aspirations, so for him it’s like ‘you’re young, to be able to win a championship, to have a chance to win it? It’s once in a lifetime, man.’”
Dudley is a respected veteran on this team, brought in for his voice in the locker room nearly as much as his play. He vowed early on to take Kuzma under his wing, and their lockers are right next to each other.
I point all this out to note that if this is what Dudley is essentially saying he’s telling Kuzma, that’s exactly what a young player needs to hear. Yes, his shots and points are down, and yes, it’s sometimes harder to get in a rhythm when you don’t get the ball as much, or know where you’ll get it or how much you’ll play, but it’s worth it to win a title.
Dudley specifically can speak well to this, as he hasn’t ever won a championship and is nearing the end of his career as a college star turned role-playing specialist. Kuzma came into the league with about the same stature as Dudley did (or it’s at least comparable), and Dudley can speak to him about how quickly a career goes by, and how a chance at a title is worth sacrificing for.
Kuzma has looked noticeably better this year when either James or Davis sits out, clearly more comfortable playing the second option role he thrived in his first two years in the league. And for all the reasons Dudley laid out, adapting to a different role won’t be easy. But if Kuzma approaches all the other little things with the same verve he does scoring as a featured option, he’ll develop a reputation as a winner rather than an empty-calorie gunner, and get plenty of chances to expand his responsibilities down the line as a result. He’s making progress on that, and it sounds like at least one of the biggest voices in his ear is telling him the right thing.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.