There are two ways you can look at the way Kyle Kuzma has performed for the Lakers this season and both of them would be correct.
On one hand, he’s posting the worst shooting splits of his career. On the other hand, he’s posting the best net rating of his career (+5.3), which can be attributed to his career-best defensive rating (104.5).
However, while both of things can be true, there’s still one truth that has cast a dark shadow over Kuzma this season, and it’s the fact that he hasn’t looked like the team’s third star. The Lakers have managed to be the best team in the Western Conference in spite of that, but with playoffs just around the corner, fans are hopeful that he can find a way to make an impact alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, or as a spark plug off of the bench.
While Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is confident Kuzma can make that leap, he’s happy with the production he’s gotten out of the third-year forward this season.
“Obviously he can get a lot better — he’s a young player, but he brings a lot to the table right now,” Vogel said. “And he’s in a difficult predicament, because a lot of his counterparts at his age that are on teams without established superstars are getting bigger roles, and he certainly is capable of that, but his role is going to be different on this team. And he’s had great acceptance of trying to find ways to contribute to winning basketball and has had a great attitude about it.
“It’s actually helped him to round out his game so to speak, rather than just focusing on scoring. The defense, the rebounding, the hustle plays that maybe you’re not focused on as much if you’re the young focal point of an offense. So I think in the long run this is really going to help his career.”
The flip side to that is that the Lakers already have two players in Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris that do the little things better than Kuzma, and they both have more experience in the postseason, if for no other reason than Kuzma’s never made the playoffs. In other words, if Kuzma doesn’t show a skill that separates himself from his competition, he could get lost in the shuffle.
Granted, he’ll probably continue to play some minutes because he’s young and can run up and down the floor for longer than someone like Dudley, but it can’t be understated how important he’ll be to the team’s postseason success. For the Lakers’ sake and his, let’s hope he has a second wind in him.