Kyle Kuzma isn’t exactly the player most people thought he would be in his fourth season in the NBA. Once viewed as a dynamic scorer that considered defense to be optional, Kuzma has developed into a high-energy bench player with a nose for grabbing rebounds and getting baskets in transition.
Kuzma’s shift in style began in the middle of last season, when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be the third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis like he and many others thought he’d be going into the season. That unfortunate revelation turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as it allowed Kuzma to settle in a different type of role with the Lakers — one that’s allowed him to make an impact even on nights when his shots aren’t falling.
This season, Kuzma has fully bought into that role and it’s paid off for him and the Lakers in a big way. Through 26 games, Kuzma is averaging more rebounds (8.6) and blocks (1.0) per 36 minutes that he has in his four-year career. He’s also posting career-highs in block percentage (2.4%) and total rebound percentage (13.4%), the latter of which is the third-highest on the team behind Anthony Davis (14.2%) and (14%) Montrezl Harrell.
Per 100 possessions, the Lakers are 2.7 points better on defense with Kuzma on the floor than they are off of it. This is the first time in his career that he’s had a positive on/off point differential on defense.
All the while, Kuzma has averaged the fewest points per game (10.3) of his career. Last season, that may have been a source of frustration for Kuzma, but this year, Markieff Morris has a hard time believing his teammate cares about how many points he’s scoring.
“Kyle’s doing a great job of filling that void that we need,” Morris said. “I feel like last season, he was more so focused on his shot, more so focused on kind of being that third star on the team, third scorer, third go-to guy. I think this season, he’s just like, ‘I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can — if I’m the third leading scorer or if I’m not the not third leading scorer. Once I get out there, I’m going try to grab every rebound and steal some extra possessions for us,’ and that’s what he’s been doing, man.
“Every team needs guys like that, and he’s taken on that role and it’s inspiring all of us to play harder.”
There will almost assuredly be nights where Kuzma looks like the Lakers’ third star, and there will nights where they’ll need him to take more responsibility on offense. But, for the most part, Kuzma knows what he is to this team now: Someone that can be relied upon to play winning basketball.
High-scoring nights are fun, but do you know what else is fun? Winning championships. Kuzma already has one — let’s see how many more he can help the Lakers win over the next three years.