The Los Angeles Lakers have started the season on fire and have maintaining the best record in the NBA, one of their key pieces has yet to fully ignite as of yet. With so much at stake going forward, how can Kyle Kuzma step it up going into 2020?
The Los Angeles Lakers have been a juggernaut to start the season, with a league’s best record and team chemistry at an all-time high, things are really looking up for the purple and gold. For fans of the Lakers, this moment in time feels so sweet.
With the memory of Kobe Bryant‘s torn Achilles still etched into the memory of Lakers fans, The Chris Paul trade being vetoed, Dwight Howard leaving for Houston, numerous lottery picks and missing the playoffs year after year. Finally, Lakersnation has a team that makes all of the heartaches of the past feel like a distant memory.
When talking about this team, much of the plaudits must be given to the likes of General Manager Rob Pelinka for assembling the team, Coach Frank Vogel for executing the gameplan on a nightly basis and keeping the team in the top 10 on both ends of the floor and to LeBron James and Anthony Davis who have been incredible so far this season.
With Davis and LeBron both considered MVP candidates, it is easy to see how the Lakers are off to such a fast start.
While the likes of AD and LeBron are playing incredible, one player that huge things were expected of is Kyle Kuzma.
While being the last remaining member of the Laker’s beloved young core, Kuzma was kept in hope that he would reach the next level of his development and become the 3rd defacto star for the purple and gold. As of right now, Kuzma has fallen far short of expectation.
A lot of the blame can be put on the ankle injury which he received whilst playing for Team USA, which in turn forced Kuz to miss training camp and pre-season. In essence, Kuzma has been playing catch up all season.
With the season far from over, there is still plenty of time for Kuzma to find a rich vein of form, if this happens, the Lakers could be an even scarier team then they have shown.
Here are 3 ways in which Kyle Kuzma can improve going forward this season:
Buy into the Kevin Love role
There is nobility in being the 3rd star on a championship-contending team. For every LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, you have a Chris Bosh, for every Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, you have Lamar Odom and for every LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, you have Kevin Love.
The role of the 3rd star is to sacrifice individually in order for the team to succeed as a unit.
Kevin Love was an absolute monster for the Minnesota Timberwolves. His ability to rebound, shoot from anywhere and be the number one option on the Timberwolves team made him a multiple time all-star and widely considered one of the best power forwards in the NBA.
However, upon Love’s arrival in Cleveland, he realized that his role was going to drastically change.
When you have transcendent talents such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on your roster, you do everything in order to put them in the best position to win. Which meant forcing Love into a role he has never done throughout his basketball career.
The Cavaliers asked Love to grab rebounds and spot up from the 3-point line. For a superstar, swallowing your pride and doing what is best for the team is a humbling experience.
Love did this for the Cavaliers and in return he won a ring.
While Kyle Kuzma isn’t the same caliber of star Kevin Love is, the message remains the same, grab rebounds, outlet the ball to LeBron or AD and wait on the wings for a spot-up 3-point shot.
If Kuzma can hit the 3-point shot at an above-average rate, he has the potential to be a 20ppg scorer. He has the confidence in his shot, he has the ability and if he buys into his role fully, he will be the 3rd star the Los Angeles Lakers need.
Continue to work hard on defense
Needless to say, so far in Kyle Kuzma’s career, we can safely say that being an elite defender has not been one of his calling cards.
Kuzma since being drafted has been guilty of getting beat by his opposing player for an easy basket or a pull-up jumper right in his face. This has caused a lot of frustration not just for his coaches and fellow teammates but also for fans of the purple and gold.
The most frustrating aspect for all involved is knowing that Kuzma is a willing defender, who is willing to work hard but his technique on the defensive end left a lot to be desired.
Kuzma’s main problem on defense is his footwork. While some of the best defenders in the NBA slide their feet in order to stay in front of their man, Kuzma would bounce on the soles of his feet, this led to players easily reading Kuzma’s footwork and throwing in hesitations and head fakes in order to get Kuzma off balance allowing the opposing player to get easy buckets.
With the likes of Frank Vogel, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and Phil Handy on staff, Kuzma has a wealth of knowledge in order to improve as a defender.
The effects of their tutelage have already been seen in Kuzma’s game. While he is still prone occasionally to bounce on the soles of his feet, he has also slowly but surely worked that out of his game and adopted the more conventional slide technique which will allow him to stay in front of his man.
Kuzma has the quickness to stay in front of his man, he has the hard-working mentality to want to get better and he is willing to put the effort in to be the best player he can be on both sides of the ball.
Continued development with the coaching staff could have Kuzma being a defensive stopper of sorts, rather than being a turnstile.
Become the 2nd Unit leader
Having been a mainstay in the Lakers starting line-up for much of his Laker’s career, it must have come as a surprise to Kyle Kuzma this off-season that he was being asked to come off the bench after being successful in the starting line-up alongside LeBron.
Adding an otherworldly talent in Anthony Davis will force you to make changes.
The Lakers so far have been spot on in moving Kuzma to the bench. With AD and LeBron playing incredibly together, it makes no sense to stick Kuzma into the starting line-up. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
While Kuzma hasn’t exactly been great in the 2nd unit as of yet as he has been working his way back to fitness, the Lakers should be encouraging Kuz to take a larger role in the team and lead the 2nd unit.
Kuzma, while young has the perfect attributes to be a leader of men. In Kyle Kuzma, you have a young man who has grown up in Flint, Michigan, who did not get many Division I offers to play college ball, who was overlooked the majority of his college career. He used people overlooking his talent and skill and turned that into fuel for the fire.
Kuzma is a hard worker who wants to get better at his craft and learn every day, willing to reach out to the titans of the game such as Kobe Bryant in order to learn everything he can in order to be the most well-rounded player he can be. His hard-working demeanor has garnered him respect from teammates significantly older than him. Kuzma has earned his place every step of the way and knows that if he doesn’t work hard it could all disappear.
With a player of his mentality, you need to challenge him to do more. While LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the Superstars, Kuzma can play the role of the leader of the 2nd unit.
This would allow for Kuz to dominate in the second unit and put the pressure on the other teams 2nd unit. This can elongate the Laker’s lead making it much easier to put teams away early on.
Kyle Kuzma’s talent is undeniable, he has the God-given ability to be a superstar. If he can realize this potential, then the purple and gold have another star on their hands.
Here is hoping everything clicks together on time in order for the Lakers to make a deep playoff run.
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