Kyle Kuzma isn’t the player he was during his breakout rookie season: he doesn’t run the break or go coast-to-coast, he doesn’t regularly shoot pull-up jumpers in transition and he only attempts fadeaway jumpers in the post when it’s the only shot he can get off, and that’s rarely.
What he does do is play a style of basketball that’s conducive to winning games, which is more than he could have said before. That progression has resulted in him having a smaller role on offense, but it’s also forced him to find other ways to contribute and he believes that challenge has made him a better player.
“I don’t care about nothing else but winning,” Kuzma said during his exit interview last week. “I wore so many hats over the past few years, doing whatever the organization and team and Frank wanted me to do. Some nights that was score, some nights that was play defense, some nights that was rebounding. Whatever it took to win, that’s what I wanted to do, and I had fun doing it.”
But as much as Kuzma has reveled in being a “do-it-all” player for the Los Angeles Lakers, he wants to use the offseason to elevate parts of his game, starting with his offense, Kuzma shot a respectable 36.1% from 3-point range while attempting 5.6 3-pointers per game in the regular season, but had less success putting the ball on the floor, something he thrived at earlier in his career.
Whether those struggles were a result of his role change or something else, he wants to get back to being a more complete player on offense.
“For me, when I first came into the league, I was drafted here and the situation really allowed me to spread my wings and become a scorer and really take on that,” Kuzma said. “And then as people come, LeBron James comes, Anthony Davis, I had to take another role and fit in, and that was to become a team player. That was to become a defensive-minded player.
“This year, I had a little bit of all that: playing a winning-style, role-player role, but then also — when those guys were out — trying to become a guy that had a little bit more into his role. And I think this year has really allowed me to understand where I can be, and what kind of player I think I can be in this league, and I’m just super, super excited for this summer.
“I think the No. 1 thing that could really help me is just adding a handle to my game, because I think that definitely limits me a little bit, because I’ve shown great strides this year from a defensive standpoint, making the right play, my playmaking has been better this year. I had a career year shooting the ball from three, and I think if I have a handle, it’s just going to make everything come together. And that’s the No. 1 thing that I’m really harping on this summer.”
Kuzma’s development has taken some unexpected turns over the last four years, but given the progress he’s shown on the defensive end in the last two years and the prowess he showed as a scorer in his first two years in the league, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll be able to put it all together in his fifth season.
Now, does that mean he’s going to live up to the hype of being the third star to LeBron James and Anthony Davis after this offseason? Probably not, but him becoming a more dynamic offensive player would make him a more valuable role player in general — and if there’s anything the Lakers after the season they just had, it’s valuable role players.
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