Since the NBA season restarted, Kyle Kuzma has been making shots at a pretty efficient clip, which is what fans were hoping to see from him after the four-month hiatus. However, his defense has also been surprisingly good — particularly in isolation situations.
Kuzma first raised some eyebrows when the Los Angeles Lakers played the Clippers on July 30 and Kuzma guarded Kawhi Leonard as well as anyone on the floor. Since then, Kuzma has made it a point to guard the other team’s best player — from Chris Paul to James Harden — for extended stretches.
While Kuzma hasn’t been the perfect defender, he’s improved to the point where Vogel is comfortable giving him tough defensive assignments. That improvement and effort earned Kuzma praise from the Lakers’ anchor on defense, Anthony Davis, after their win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
“He wants to guard the best player on the floor, he wants to take the challenges,” Davis said. “He’s been great for us all year. He’s getting into his rhythm on both ends of the floor and he’s going to be key for us, especially in the playoffs.”
A lot has been made about how valuable Jared Dudley has been for Kuzma’s development in his third year, and that probably has something to do with the fact that the ideal version of Kuzma for this team is what Dudley was for the Phoenix Suns early in his career. But Kuzma has also benefited from watching Davis be a dominant two-way force.
“Big time players play both side of the ball,” Kuzma said. “So I’m just learning every single day from LeBron and AD, having AD as an example of a player that does it on both ends. That’s kind of how I want my career to be. It’s all about digging in deep, addressing my weaknesses and attacking them. Just not being scared.”
Kuzma’s confidence in himself, his work ethic and his raw talent is what has made him such a tantalizing prospect over the last two years. While the version of Kuzma the Lakers are seeing now might not be his final form (or even his ideal form), it’s the form that’s best-equipped to help them win a championship this season, and his growth has been really exciting to watch.
Here’s to hoping for more of the same from Kuzma.