Kyle Kuzma has never lacked for confidence, but it’s fair to say that the Lakers forward’s self-belief has ratcheted up another level during his sensational start to play in the NBA bubble. Whether he’s openly admitting that he and his teammates aren’t scared of the much-hyped Trail Blazers, or shouting that he’d shoot over Jesus Christ, Kuzma is clearly feeling himself.
His play over his last seven games has backed up his increasingly big talk, too. Kuzma has locked in on both ends of the floor in the bubble, and is still averaging 15.4 points while shooting a team-high 44.4% from three, even amid increased defensive responsibilities.
In other words, he’s becoming a true, two-way threat, and he wants to keep that going and prove he’s for real when his first playoff appearance begins on Tuesday.
“I’m excited because my first two years I didn’t get into the playoffs,” Kuzma said. “The playoffs kind of show you what you’re made of. You see the difference between guys that actually love the game of basketball and (the guys) who love the lifestyle. So I think (with) the ultra-competitiveness in me and the rest of my teammates, it’s going to be fun to go out there and play.”
One of the things Kuzma wants to continue to do is show how much he’s improved as a defender. He’s gone from being someone teams sought out on switches and attacked to someone who the Lakers are (slightly) better with on defense when he plays than when he doesn’t. He’s become one of their go-to wing defenders, and knows he isn’t finished proving that this improvement on both ends is real, and not just some small-sample-size, bubble-fueled mirage.
“It’s an every-day challenge. It’s all about getting better every day,” Kuzma said of his work to become a true two-way threat. “That’s obviously cliche. Us athletes may say that and it just goes over people’s heads, but to me that’s what it is.
“I’m far away from being the defender I want to be, and I’m far away from being the offensive player I want to be,” Kuzma continued. “It’s all about every day trying to get better and competing. Competing not only against my teammates in practice and opponents, but just competing against myself mentally every day.”
Kuzma may not be where he wants to be just yet, but he’s certainly looked a lot closer to becoming that type of player in the bubble than he did before the NBA season resumed.
And if Kuzma can keep his progress going in the playoffs, it’s like he said: He really will prove he’s for real. It sounds like he’s ready for the challenge of doing so.