The Los Angeles Lakers faced an early exit this postseason after losing to the Phoenix Suns in six games. There are multiple reasons as to why the season ended as disappointing as it did. Injuries can be the main focus to blame but it also came down to chemistry. Quite a few players flat out did not show up when the team needed them the most and Kyle Kuzma was one of them.
Although he is under contract until 2024, there nothing holding the front office back from trading Kuzma away for pieces. After much a disappointing two year run with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Kuzma has a huge offseason in front of him to improve his game or he very well might be on the way out.
Drafted back in 2017, Kyle Kuzma did not have high expectations placed on him. Kuzma was apart of the D’Angelo Russell trade which brought over Brook Lopez as well as getting Timofey Mozgov off the Lakers’ books. However, Kuzma turned out to be a potential corner stone for the Lakers as he was putting up big numbers.
As the team’s number one option, he flourished as he had multiple opportunities to shoot. The same exact situation occurred in year two as he was the second option to LeBron James. However, after the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis Kuzma’s performance hasn’t been the same. Although you must take into perspective that his production wouldn’t be the same as he would take a third fiddle to the two superstars, he hasn’t entirely found a rhythm with the team.
By the Numbers
Here are Kuzma’s Career stats, take a note on the drop off from his first two seasons in points, shot attempts and field goals percentage.
Living Up to the Contract?
Just last offseason, Kuzma signed a three-year, $40M extension. As you look at the deal itself, it’s a good contract for both parties as it’s a prove it deal in a sense. The Lakers are gauging out money to Kuzma while Kuzma is still getting paid. Should Kuzma improve his game and out play the contract he is surely due for a lucrative deal. Unfortunately, it’s been the other way around for him.
For a better part of the season, it looked as if Kuzma had found his role on the team focusing on rebounding and defense. As he focused on this aspect of his game, he would allow his offense to come to him instead of forcing the issue as he once did in the past.
In spite of Kuzma’s effort to make a difference, it simply hasn’t shown, especially in the postseason. In his first postseason in 2020, Kuzma averaged 10 points, 3.1 rebounds on 43% shooting from the field and 31.3% from three. For a lack of better words, this is unacceptable especially since many viewed him as the potential third star to James and Davis. In this past seasons first round matchup against the Suns, Kuzma laid another egg. Against the Suns, Kuzma averaged 6.3 points, 3.8 rebounds on 29% shooting from the field and 17.4% from three. This is completely horrendous numbers for a player of Kuzma’s caliber.
“Obviously I can’t speak for everyone but, you know, it was a tough series particularly for me, shooting the ball, after having probably a career year shooting the three this year for me,” Kuzma said during his exit interview earlier this month. “You know, it’s just tough, ending the season that way after putting in a lot of work and being confident in that but, you know, it’s always beauty in the struggle and ugliness in success.”
For Kuzma to take that next step, he must add a handle to his game. If he were able to put the ball on the court and create more for himself, it opens up the floor a lot of things. He can get past the initial defender which will force defenses to help thus leaving someone open. Makes him more fundamentally sound and be able to read situations better with better footwork. It will also keep defenses guessing as to what his next move is. As of right now, Kuzma’s game is very predictable. He generally camps at the three for kick outs, rarely we see him cut to the basket for lay ups, he’s not versatile in the pick and roll when he’s the ball handler and he settles for turn around fade aways when given an iso post touch along the baseline.
Kuzma has all the tools to be a successful in this league, now it’s all up to him to look in the mirror and finally take that next step instead of being focused on Hollywood. Sure Los Angeles is the place of glamour and celebrities, but when you suit up in the purple and gold all that is out of window and the focus is on winning.
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