The Lakers beat the Clippers 103-101 in the team’s NBA restart opener, surviving rust-filled second and third quarters to come out with a hard-won victory. One of the most integral — and arguably most unexpected — keys to the win was the wing defense of Kyle Kuzma, who was constantly given the assignment of guarding Kawhi Leonard (and to a lesser extent, his fellow Clippers star Paul George), in addition to how well Kuzma held up in switches on the perimeter that forced him to defend some of the Clippers’ smaller guards.
In the process of going through the game film, I found several key elements that unlocked Kuzma’s defensive ability, and helped the Lakers to a big win. In the following video, I showcased each of those factors by breaking down four different plays:
Although Kuzma was flat out superb defensively, we also can’t get ahead of ourselves because we have seen flashes of this capability before, although not to this level. The key question for Kuzma moving forward is if he can harness this performance and build on it to become a consistently above-average defender. Whether or not he can may be the difference between the Lakers hoisting up championship trophy No. 17, or not.
Dr. Rajpal Brar has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University, and runs his own sports medicine and performance business, 3CB Performance, in West LA and Valencia, CA. He also works at a hospital — giving him experience with patients in the immediate healthcare setting and neurological patients (post stroke, post brain injury) — and has been practicing for 1.5 years. Brar is additionally training at UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC), and analyzes the Lakers from a medical perspective for Silver Screen and Roll and Laker Film Room. You can follow him on Twitter at @3cbperformance.