Kyle Kuzma has scored just two points in his last two appearances with the Los Angeles Lakers, which is the lowest two-game point total of his young career. Both of his points came in the Lakers’ Game 2 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. In Game 1, he scored zero points in 19 minutes.
Kuzma hasn’t been particularly efficient from the field over the last two games, but he also hasn’t attempted many shots. In total, he’s shot 1-6 from the field in the postseason, including 0-3 from behind the arc.
In the past, Kuzma’s lack of shots may have bothered him because, prior to last season, he was an offense-first player. However, his message about his role on the team has been consistent: he just wants to help his team win.
“My role on this team is not necessarily scoring the ball,” Kuzma said after practice on Wednesday. “Obviously, if you look at it from an attempt standpoint, the ball hasn’t necessarily found me and that’s okay. I just have trust that it will eventually but my thing is obviously contributing on that defensive end, which I have been, and doing those little things to help us get wins — playing championship style basketball — and I’m okay with that.”
Kuzma would obviously say similar things before last season — if he didn’t, he’d likely be on another team — but his play has backed his words up over the last two seasons and the last two games have been no different. In fact, on Tuesday, Kuzma posted the third-best defensive rating on the team. With Kuzma off the floor, the Lakers’ defensive rating dropped by 11.7 points.
Kuzma doesn’t want to be a one-way player, though; he also wants to be a scoring threat when the right set of circumstances come along. Until then, he’s committed to making the right plays for his teammates, even if it means even fewer shots for him.
“Obviously it’s not ideal for me to go a game and shoot the game two or three times,” Kuzma said. “Obviously. Just keeping it 100. I’ve just got to find ways. I’m constantly moving on the court and just trusting that the ball and that energy of moving is going to find me, whether that’s cutting to the middle of the rim, running the floor every time; and, in certain situations, being aggressive and making the right read.
“There have been a bunch of plays this series where I get in the paint, thinking to score, but there’s a teammate open and I’m hitting them. That’s just the right basketball play and I’m fine with it ... those plays add up. I’ve just got to keep trusting that the ball is going to find me and hopefully it does in the right situations.”
A part of Frank Vogel would like to create more of those situations for Kuzma, but he thinks Kuzma is valuable in the role he’s in right now.
“A little bit, there is a mindset on my part to get him in some more actions just because we know what he’s capable of, but his role on this team is to be a secondary scoring option and defend and rebound and make all of the hustle plays and then finish when the ball swings to him. We play through Anthony and LeBron so much, even more so in the playoffs.
“So, there is a mindset to get him involved some, but we don’t want him forcing and we, as a coaching staff, don’t want to force-feed that type of action. There’s going to some games where he’s heavily-involved and some guys where he’s not, but if he defends and rebounds, he’s helping us win. He had a great performance the other night without a bunch of points and just doing all of those intangible things that we talked about.”
It’s possible that Kuzma will be more involved in Game 3, but it sounds like the best way for him to make a bigger impact on offense is to convert the limited opportunities he’s getting. If he can do that, then his role in Vogel’s offense might just progress naturally.