Kyle Kuzma’s Increasing Maturity Is Starting to Show in His Performances

After being selected with the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kyle Kuzma was initially a relatively unknown prospect to fans of the Los Angeles Lakers. However, a stellar rookie campaign posting an average of 16.1 points per game quickly built the Flint native a reputation of being a flat-out scorer. Which was further backed by his 45% shooting from the field and 36.6% conversion rate from beyond the arc. This earned him a selection into the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie Team.

With the addition of LeBron James on the Lakers in the summer of 2018, Kuzma’s game took a step further in his sophomore season. Where his scoring jumped to 18.7 points per game. Even though his 3-point shooting dropped to a below average 30.3%, his overall field goal percentage increased slightly to 45.6%. He even won MVP honors at the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend in the Rising Stars game, where he scored a game-high 35 points.

Going into his third season in the professional ranks, and with the addition of a second superstar in Anthony Davis, the expectation was for Kuzma’s game to step up even further. Specifically, for him to be the third scorer on a championship contender.

Long story short, it’s not been a straight road for the 25-year-old in the 2019-20 season. His scoring and shooting averages have dropped to 12.8 and 43.6%, respectively, due to streaky performances. His rebounding and assists numbers are down too. Additionally, his minutes per game have fallen to a career-low 25, as a result of him losing his starting place to Davis.

Lakers top Thunder 125-110 without LeBron, Anthony  Davis
(Image/AP Photo/Sue Ogrock)

He did show spurts of his former self however. Scoring a season-high 36 points in a road victory against Oklahoma City Thunder. In-fact, when he has started instead of Davis, he has posted averages of 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, on 49.7% shooting, 36% from 3. When scoring 20+ points this season, the Lakers had an impressive 8-2 regular season record.

Although, it does need to be noticed that his game has progressed in other facets. He has realized that he isn’t a top scoring option, unlike in his first two seasons in the NBA. As the purple and gold have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and a host of veteran options, including Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Avery Bradley.

Kuzma’s defensive rating in the regular season sat at a career-high 105.2. Some of that will be due to him having a better team surrounding him, but his intensity and focus on the defensive end has increased dramatically.

In the NBA bubble in Orlando, Kuzma finished the 2019-20 regular season in red-hot form. Shooting 44.5% from 3-point land on an average of 15.4 points per game. This led to him being part of his first ever NBA postseason, where even though his numbers have dropped again, he has flourished in his role. Doing the small things that matter.

When out on the perimeter on the offensive end, he’s been cutting to the basket often. In his first two seasons, he would have been doing this to purely receive the ball and looking to score. However, now the 25-year-old recognizes that such cuts can space the floor and create opportunities for the many shooters on the team. As well as the superstar duo of James and Davis. Alternatively, his cuts allow him to plant himself in-front of his man in anticipation of any misses, to grab the offensive board. In the 9 postseason games, to date, he is averaging 1 offensive rebound in each contest. That extra effort has been on full show in Disney World.

Not to mention, his sheer will and desire to fight for loose balls. As displayed in Game 3 of the second-round against the Houston Rockets. Where he ran the entire length of the court to save a ball trickling out of bounds, by throwing himself to the floor and into the advertising board.

Kuzma has taken huge strides forward on the defensive end. In the postseason so far, his defensive rating is 101.5. This places him in 3rd place on the Lakers’ roster for players that have played over 15 minutes. He falls behind Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris, and sits ahead of Anthony Davis.

His agility and quick feet has allowed him to stay in front of some of the NBA’s best players. At the very least, his strong 6-foot-8 frame makes it awkward for opponents, who have to frequently alter their shots in his presence. Which has been ever-present in the series’ against the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockers. Where he has matched up against the likes of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.

Even though everyone expected Kuzma to step-up in scoring this season, it appears that he’s stepped up in maturity, adopting a team-player mentality. He has established the ability to read the game better on both ends of the court, looking ahead at how the game will unfold. Not to mention his new-found recognition to create opportunities for others off-the-ball, through intelligent movement. Although, his scoring promise is still well and truly there. Along with the capability to light-up for 25-30+ points on any given night.

A more consistent scoring punch off the bench for the Lakers would be welcomed, as Kuzma has been very up-and-down all season long in that regard. But credit where credit is due. Kuzma’s all-round effort has improved significantly. As he has become a very important piece for a championship-contending Lakers team that has returned to the very top of the NBA once again.

Cover image credit: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP


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An Interview With Phil Handy (Assistant Coach, Los Angeles Lakers)

(Image/Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

On the latest episode of The Lake Lake Show podcast, Los Angeles Lakers Assistant Coach and 2-time NBA Champion, Phil Handy, featured as a guest.

Handy speaks briefly about the NBA season resuming, his first spell with the Lakers (2011-13), his return to Los Angeles, and the difficulty in leaving Toronto after the Raptors’ title-winning season.

Other topics include the Lakers’ chemistry this season, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and his playing days in the United Kingdom with the Manchester Giants in 2000.  

You can check out the interview on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Spotify. As well as on YouTube, through the link below, where the visuals are available.


Check out Lakers UK’s podcast The Lake Lake Show on all podcast platforms. Including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

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Why the Lakers Should Keep Kyle Kuzma

(Image/Complex)

Let’s face it Lakers Nation, we’re spoiled. Our team this season has spoiled us.

We’ve grown used to 10-game winning streaks. We’ve grown used to dominating opposing teams on the road to the tune of the best road record in the NBA. We’ve grown used to having the best record in the Western Conference. We’ve grown used to watching the best duo in the NBA doing whatever they want to opposing defenses night-in and night-out. However, with all of this said, I’ll be one of the first people to say it, we’ve taken all of this for granted.

We should pause relishing in the euphoria that is this 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers team and ask ourselves — why is this team so good? Is it our All-Star duo, LeBrow? Is it the steady presence of our veteran players? Is it our role players? How about team chemistry — could it be that? Ladies and gentlemen, I think it is all the aforementioned with special emphasis on team chemistry.

Image result for lakers"
(Image/Associated Press/Rick Scuteri)

What Laker fan hasn’t noticed how much our players genuinely enjoy one another? How much fun they seem to have during each game? The pre-game team rituals, the custom handshakes. Best of all, there is no obvious locker-room drama outside of Kyle Kuzma’s idiot trainer’s remarks about LeBron James after the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, confirmed reports have recently surfaced of ongoing locker-room rancor with our frenemies at the other end of the Staples Center “hallway” but that overrated, load-managing, “preferential treatment” locker-room is a discussion we’ll save for another day.

This all brings us back to why the Lakers should keep Kuzma — his cost control, his high ceiling, and team chemistry. Kuzma is in the third year of his 4-year, $8.65 million rookie contract. This season he is making a paltry base salary of $1.974 million. In the final year of his rookie deal, he is scheduled to get a bump in salary to $3.562 million since his option was picked up.

As the 27th overall pick in the 2017 draft, he has clearly outperformed his contract and best yet, he hasn’t even begun to enter his prime. Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka knows this type of cheap, cost-controlled, high-ceiling production is not something you simply trade away unless it is for a high-level, impact player and, unfortunately, those types of players frequently just do not become available for trade.

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(Image/Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

Kuzma’s value to the Lakers championship run is vital whether fans choose to admit it or not. LeBron James acknowledged as much after the win in Brooklyn in January, when asked about the makeup of our team for a deep playoff run. Not to mention, we still control Kuzma for one more season, then restricted free-agency opens-up. Although, some believe Pelinka will lock the 24-year-old up long term before that.

It’s understandable why a large percentage of Lakers Nation is down on Kuzma. Fans all have eyes, they recognize what they have witnessed. His play has been inconsistent and his basketball IQ leaves a whole heap to be desired. He takes bad shots, makes some bad defensive decisions, his on-court positioning is off, and so forth.

Further, others complain he is too caught up in Hollywood. He is too interested in dating the next Hollywood celebrity, and he is too interested in modeling his next outfit for his Instagram account. These are all valid points, but what we must remember is in all these off-the-court concerns, the kid is 24-years-old, lives in Los Angeles, is single, is handsome, and is a millionaire! He is supposed to be doing what he is doing and that is maintaining a work-life balance.

Kuzma is the Lakers’ 3rd offensive option, essentially the 6th man off the bench. What he needs to help advance his consistency and development is a play-making point guard to run the offense, set him to up, and probably a veteran wing defender to help him out on the second unit. That play-making point guard could be Darren Collison.

Envision a core second unit of Collison, Caruso, Kuzma, Dwight, and a to be named, impact wing defender. Good, right?!

Image result for darren collison lakers"
(Image/HoopsHabit)

Chemistry is essential to a team’s success in this league unless you are the Golden State Warriors and have four superstars in your starting five. Look at the run the Clippers made last season. Most of their success was based on chemistry and excellent coaching. It is no surprise they are having chemistry issues this season, but again, this is a topic for another day.

To bring in Collison, who leaves — Cook or Daniels? Does bringing in Collison mess up our team chemistry? That will all come to the forefront with the trade deadline fast-approaching.


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Is Trading Kyle Kuzma a Bad Idea?

Image result for kyle kuzma rondo
(Image/Chris Elise)

The last of the young core finds himself again at the center of trade rumours. The Lakers shouldn’t bite.

It happens every year in the NBA – between Christmas and the early February trade deadline each team in or near championship contention finds itself buried under an avalanche of trade rumors. Networks and reporters boost views by amplifying those rumors, feeding the social media flames. No team gets more attention than the Lakers, and no player more clicks than LeBron James.

It should be unsurprising, then, that for the last two years James and the Lakers have been relentlessly hounded by trade speculation surrounding some or all of the former young core. Many recognized that their long-term development timeline fit uncomfortably with the last few years of elite production James has left. Last year Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart all saw their names in the papers connected to trade rumors. Eventually, all but Kuzma were sent to New Orleans for Anthony Davis.

This year, as the team deals with a number of new faces and championship expectations, the stories have centered on Kuzma. In many ways this is a predictable outcome – he is the last of the old Young Core not to be traded and there has been a persistent media narrative that he is a poor basketball fit alongside James and Davis. Some tantalizing names – Bojan Bogdanovic, Derrick Rose, and Robert Covington in particular – have been connected to potential deals for Kuzma, and those players have obvious and necessary skill sets.

Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to trade Kuzma this year. His value to the team is only starting to become apparent on the court and he projects to contribute in important ways in the playoffs, particularly his ability to help break down the defense from off-ball positions. There is still a lot of progress to be made both in terms of his game sense and how the coaching staff utilizes him, but he has the ability to be an essential part of the team.

Kuzma’s ability as a scorer is well documented, but it is highly situational. As a creator off the dribble, he is turnover prone and inefficient. It is when asked to be the primary creator on bench units that he has struggled, and those struggles along with his mediocre counting stats this year have contributed to an online narrative that he is a liability.

Yet, Kuzma’s per-36 production has remained steady from last year while he is back to league average as a 3-point shooter. His wing defense, when not asked to lock down longer or stronger players in isolation, has been good. When he has looked bad, it has largely been because of the Lakers’ difficulties with finding a suitable backup point guard.

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(Image/Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

As an illustration, consider that Kuzma’s net rating when playing alongside James and Davis is the highest of anyone on the team. Yet he spends a significant proportion of his minutes expected to make up for lost production while one of them rests. He is the most significant bench scorer for the Lakers, but he is at his best attacking an offense that has already been compromised.

With the bench units, he is reliant on Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso to initiate the offense and find him, for instance, when he cuts to the basket to take advantage of a ball-watching defender. Rondo has been maddeningly inconsistent finding Kuzma on these off-script sorts of reads and Caruso is best played off the ball himself on offense.

The inconsistency in Kuzma’s offensive impact has, therefore, been less a function of his play than of what he has been asked to do in the offense. In particular, if the Lakers can find an upgrade at the backup point guard position he will find himself in much more familiar and comfortable spots. When such a simple upgrade can help unlock a player of Kuzma’s talent, making that move is always a preferable alternative to trading him, particularly while he is still contributing well above his pay rate.

Putting Kuzma’s internal situation to the side for the moment, the packages that have been floated for him have been underwhelming. Bogdanovic is a skilled offensive player and underrated defender, but he is also in the last year of his contract and certain to be expensive even if he were committed to staying with the Lakers.

Rose’s resurgence in Minnesota and Detroit have been inspiring but trading a promising young player for a point guard past his expiration date with a history of injury is a questionable long term decision. It isn’t immediately obvious that Covington is a better player than Kuzma right now, even if his wing defense does fill a need.

How frequently in the last 8 months have Laker fans mourned the loss of Ivica Zubac and Svi Mykhailiuk in trades for specialist vets of exactly the kind being discussed now with Kuzma? Neither of those trades panned out and neither of those vets remains with the team.


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3 Players Who Need To Step Up In The Pursuit Of A Championship

(Image/CBS Sports)

The Los Angeles Lakers have been great this season. In-fact, they have been leading the Western Conference comfortably and sustaining the second best record in the league, throughout.

However, not all has been a success for the Lakers. In marquee match-ups against the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, some issues were highlighted.

Aside from superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the purple and gold struggle to find any offensive identity at times, which could prove problematic in any future playoff match-ups. To address these issues, the Lakers are rumoured to be exploring the trade market. Although, if a few players can evolve their games and step-up, no trades will be required.

Here are 3 players that need to step up for the Lakers to get to that next level, in the pursuit of a Championship.

(Image/Chris Elise/NBAE/Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo

This is Rajon Rondo‘s second season as a member of the Lakers. To date, it’s probably fair to say that he’s had a relatively disappointing season. Coming into the the 2019/20 campaign, Rondo was expected to be a primary ball handler that could create shots for other players coming off the bench. That hasn’t been the case.

Being a below average defender and shooter, the 33-year-old’s main form of productivity comes through his passing and play-making. However, he’s been struggling with this aspect of his game.

Rondo has been playing 22 minutes per game this season. In those minutes, he holds averages of 7.6 points and 5.4 assists, paired with 2.1 turnovers. Many of these minutes come when LeBron James isn’t on the court, meaning the main play-making responsibilities fall in Rondo’s control. But he’s failed to take advantage of that.

Rondo somehow needs to be able to utilise his minutes better, by shooting the ball consistently, spreading the ball to space, and having a better assist to turnover ratio. If so, then the Lakers’ lack of scoring without James and Anthony Davis can be answered.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Quinn Cook

Coming into the season, Quinn Cook was a player who was supposed to be a sharpshooter off the bench. Not just a spot-up shooter, but also a player that could create his own shot.

Funnily enough, the description above matches the exact type of player that the Lakers are pursuing with the NBA trade deadline approaching.

Cook has had impressive games this season, there’s no doubting that. With the most recent being in the loss against the Orlando Magic, where he lit up for 22 points, on 9-14 shooting, 4-7 from 3. In that game, he was instrumental in helping the purple and gold cut down a 20 point deficit.

But these games have been few and far between. A lot of this could come down to lack of minutes though. Although, it can be said, that in the minutes he has received, Cook has not become dependable enough to see the court more.

If he can become more productive offensively, on a consistent basis, as well as developing as a play-maker, he can truly be a force in a postseason run.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma

Kyle Kuzma was one of the few players retained by the Lakers this past off-season. His ability to be a catch-and-shoot, lights-out scorer alongside LeBron James, on a cap friendly contract, earned him a significant spot on the roster for this season.

But.. Kuzma’s campaign has been very polarising so far. There are occasional games where he can light it up and explode for 20+ points, but there are also games where he will fall out of rhythm, and struggle with his shooting. The latter being more frequent.

From a defensive standpoint, he’s not terrible. He’s actually been much improved this season, but it’s unfair to label him an above average defender. He still requires some further development on that side of the ball.

So when he’s struggling to find it offensively, and due to him not being an established lock-down defender, there’s little reason for him to be on the court. Granted, when Kuzma gets plentiful touches and shots, he can be a threat. But when James and Davis are sharing the floor with him, this proves difficult.

In order for Kuzma to turn the Lakers from a great team to a near unstoppable team, he needs to improve as a wing defender, relying on more than athleticism to stop his opponents. He also needs to learn how to do more with less and produce offensively. Even when he doesn’t get the touches he wants.

If this can happen, Kyle Kuzma can become the third scoring threat that everyone saw him as coming into the season.


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3 Ways in Which Kyle Kuzma Can Improve Going into 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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:

Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Logan Riely/NBAE)

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.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Joe Murphy/NBAE)

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.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Logan Riely/NBAE)

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.


Lakers Fanclub UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: http://tinyurl.com/y4vjv32b and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

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How Good are the Lakers? A Quarter-Mark Review

(Image/Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Fans of the purple and gold had questions about this newly formed Lakers squad. We are finally getting answers.

The Los Angeles Lakers have now played 21 games, representing the approximate quarter-mark of the 82 game slog that is the NBA regular reason.

By all accounts they have exceeded expectations, winning 18 of those 21 games and showing in the process instant chemistry that was not widely expected for a team with so many new faces.

Yet as the preseason began, there remained considerable uncertainty about how good this Lakers team would ultimately be.

The superstar core of LeBron James and Anthony Davis essentially guaranteed playoff basketball if healthy, but the ultimate potential of the team, all observers agreed, would ultimately depend on the performance of the role players and coaching staff.

In a season preview, we boiled down the uncertainties surrounding this team to four key questions, the answers to which would provide essential information about how good they could potentially be. A quarter of the way through the season, we are beginning to get enough information to answer those questions with some confidence.

Are perimeter players hitting open 3s?

By far the most important of the four questions because if defenses have to respect the Lakers’ perimeter shooters James and Davis cannot be held in check offensively.

The uneven shooting records of Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, and Alex Caruso prompted some skepticism that the Lakers’ spacing would be sufficient to maximize their star duo. Poor 3 point shooting in the preseason and the first couple games of the regular season seemed to justify that skepticism.

Then, that abruptly changed. In November the team shot 36.9% from three, respectably above league average. In the ten game span ending with Friday night’s game against the Washington Wizards, they shot a league-leading 40.1%. They also won all of those games.

(Image/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The most encouraging sign about this shooting-spree has been that it isn’t centered around one or two players. Danny Green remains Danny Green, shooting 38.1% on an even 5 attempts from three per game.

Caldwell-Pope, after an excruciatingly slow start shooting the ball, has caught fire so quickly he is up to 38.3% from three on the year.

Kyle Kuzma, discussed below, is also shooting very well after a cold start, his post-eye-poke slump notwithstanding. Perhaps most surprisingly, notorious bricklayer Rajon Rondo is shooting an eye-popping 48.4% on almost 3 attempts per game. 

While Bradley and Caruso have both languished in the sub-30% range shooting the long ball this year, enough of the Lakers perimeter players have made their shots that they currently sit 8th in the league in offensive efficiency, up from 24th last year.

In short, the answer to this question so far has been yes.

The Lakers are punishing opposing defenses for sagging away from shooters to help defend James and Davis, and that punishment forces a reaction, in turn creating more space in which the stars can operate. It is a proven formula for James, and Davis can do more to exploit it than any player he has ever played with. As long as the Lakers have 2 or 3 credible three-point threats to use around them, the team’s offensive success is absolutely sustainable.

Are the Lakers able to use drop coverage to guard the Pick and Roll without bleeding points?

In the last ten seasons, the traditional big man has died in the NBA. The end of the league ban on zone defense in 2002 made it easier to contain bruising, physically dominant bigs in the post by eliminating the requirement that helps defenders stay attached to their assignment or commit to a full double-team. 

Then the LeBron James-led Miami Heat and more recently the Golden State Warriors demonstrated to the league that effective spacing can run slow bigs off the court defensively while zone principles can limit their offensive impact. They have been banished from the highest echelons of the NBA accordingly.

The remaining niche for athletic bigs who don’t have quite perimeter-level quickness is to be a rebounding rim-protector and screen-setter in the mold of Rudy Gobert or Clint Capela. In order to employ those bigs effectively, it is generally necessary to have perimeter defenders capable of fighting over screens quickly, so that slower bigs aren’t forced to switch onto smaller, faster playmakers.

The Lakers play two such bigs in JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.

It is of great importance that the perimeter defenders on the team maintain pressure and consistently fight over screens to avoid compromising the ability of the bigs to stay close to the rim. Fortunately Bradley, Caldwell-Pope, Green, and Caruso have shown the ability to shoulder their part of the defensive burden.

(Image/Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

The downside of drop coverage is that the mid-range jump shot is generally left open, between the perimeter defender fighting over a screen and the defending big dropped behind the screen. Players with effective mid-range shots are more effectively defended by switching, provided the big involved is capable of defending the perimeter player in question.

One of the best defensive signs of the young season has been Howard’s ability to hold his own against faster guards on the switch. It has been years since we’ve seen this sort of quickness on his feet from Howard, and he has remained at or near the top of the team in defensive rating all year. If he sustains the trend, the Lakers may not need to be so dependent on defending the screen and roll with drop coverage in the playoffs, as both he and Davis could plausibly switch onto guards from the center position.

McGee, on the other hand, has had uneven defensive performances because of his tendency to chase blocked shots. He has made a career out of making guards think they have a lane to the basket only to erase the shot at the last moment.

The problem with that tactic is if the player employing it is, like McGee, inconsistent in judging the ability of the guard to exploit the window, he ends up giving up a number of free layups.

Even with that caveat, the Lakers are a top-five team in defensive efficiency and have shown the ability to put the clamps on opposing offenses in crunch time. By and large, everyone is playing into their role defensively, coach Frank Vogel has put together a sound scheme, and the results are plain to see.

Is Team USA Kuz translating to the NBA?

Before being diagnosed with a stress reaction in his leg, Kuzma had an excellent run at the Team USA training camp this summer. His defensive intensity had significantly improved in his second year, and with Team USA he began to make better defensive reads as well. Most tantalizingly, he showed off a slightly modified shooting stroke that seemed to be improving his consistency from deep.

(Image/Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In returning from his injury, Kuzma initially struggled. Having missed training camp, preseason, and the first games of the regular season, he needed several games to settle back into the pace of NBA play. Since then, his shooting has been excellent. His overall numbers – 33/3% on 4.4 attempts per game – remain short of what might be hoped for. Yet in his last eleven

games, including three duds hampered by an ankle sprain, he has shot a clean 41% from three-point range. 

Defensively, the result so far from Kuzma has been a mixed bag.

Conditioning and injuries have jointly conspired to keep him from playing his best immediately, and it remains to be seen if he will be a good enough perimeter defender to deter teams with elite talent from hunting him, as Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors did in the Lakers’ second loss of the season.

Accordingly, the verdict on Kuzma remains out. On the whole, the shooting numbers are particularly encouraging because what this team needs most from Kuzma is for him to be a reasonably efficient third scoring option when he is on the floor. Even if his defensive play this summer was a mirage, shooting the 3 and scoring effectively will be enough to keep Kuzma on the floor for significant minutes.

If Kuzma can provide a solid scoring output from the bench, this alleviates a lot of pressure on the shoulders of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, allowing for them to rest for longer periods and stay healthy for a playoff run.

Has the team and the staff avoided drama and stayed focused?

Of the four questions addressed here, this one had the greatest potential to keep this team from becoming the best version of itself.

Lakers fans have seen all too clearly in recent years how efficiently poor coaching and organizational dysfunction can hide talent on the court. There was also an unusually large number of chemistry variables at play this year, ranging from the coaching staff to the star duo to the role players.

Thankfully, none of those potential distractions have materialized. Vogel has shown himself to be a sensible and adaptable coach, which has contributed significantly to the Lakers’ blistering start. Assistants Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins were widely suspected this summer to be eager to take the reins should Vogel fail early. On account of the team’s early success and Vogel’s contributions to it, even NBA Twitter has largely stopped making jokes about Kidd’s ambitions.

Vogel’s job seems very secure for the short term, and that is absolutely what is best for the team. The Lakers, as all fans are aware, attract more than enough media attention to their every move on account of their success and location. Hitting a rough patch early in the season could have been fatal for a team trying to build trust in the new coaching staff and between many new players. In addition, their strong start has given the staff enough credibility that when the inevitable rough patch comes, they have the tools necessary to weather it.

(Image/Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

The Next 20 Games

In the first quarter of the regular season, the Lakers have shown themselves capable of doing the things they need to do to win a championship this year. Yet even proven capability on its own is far from a guarantee (see Houston Rockets). But given that we were wondering before this season whether the Lakers had a championship-caliber roster, these early results are extremely encouraging.

What we know after 21 games is that the Lakers have the talent and personnel to be a title contender. What we will find out in the next 20, particularly during the brutal run of games they have scheduled for December, is whether they have the mental and physical toughness to execute under adversity. We will learn a lot more about this team in the coming games, and they should learn a lot more about themselves. For now, Lakers fans should relish being able to watch basketball played at the highest levels for the first time in a decade.


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The Return of Kyle Kuzma

(Image/Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

Fans had been already treated to the LeBron James and Anthony Davis Show, but on Friday evening in Dallas the Los Angeles Lakers added another key piece sooner than expected. 

In his much anticipated return in the Lakers’ recent thrilling overtime win, Kyle Kuzma performed about as expected after several months off the court. He was 3-8 from the field, with 9 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist while going 3-4 from the foul line. He shot poorly from distance in limited minutes but showed evidence of his ability to cut, defend the perimeter, and attack off the dribble.

As he is worked into his role over the next month or so, the team will look for him to consistently demonstrate the skills he has shown in flashes over his first 2-years.

It has been clear from the moment that Kawhi Leonard decided to take his talents to the Los Angeles Clippers this July that if the Lakers are going to take home a championship this season, Kyle Kuzma will have to be the third best player on the team. Danny Green is an elite shooter and a defensive stud, true, but his inconsistency finishing at the rim and as a ball handler make him a poor fit as a third scoring option during isolation-heavy playoff basketball.

Neither Dwight Howard nor Rajon Rondo are sufficient creators at this stage of their careers. The guard rotation has been solid but it has been obvious to this point that none of them is prepared to assume such a large role. That process of elimination leaves Kuzma.

The good news for fans is that the best version of Kuzma – and the version he has vocally been trying to become – is exactly what this team needs. In his first two seasons he has shown at various times the ability to shoot from distance, create off the dribble both for himself and his teammates, and creditably defend wings on the perimeter.

As it happens, those are precisely the skills the Lakers would like to shore up between now and the playoffs. The bad news is that Kuzma has yet to do all of those things at the same time. With his return from injury occurring sooner than expected, here are some specific things in each of those areas for fans to keep an eye on.

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Three Point Shooting

One of the highlights of Kuzma’s excellent rookie campaign was his much better than advertised shooting stroke. He shot a league average rate of 36.6% on a hefty 5.6 attempts per game from 3-point range that year, which for a rookie Power Forward with little anticipated shooting ability was a revelation. His second season last year fell unpleasantly flat in this regard. He shot only 30.3% during that campaign while simultaneously increasing his volume to an even 6 attempts per game.

Last season was so poor for Kuzma from a shooting perspective that he sought the assistance of well-regarded shooting coach and omnipresent Twitter personality Lethal Shooter over the summer. There were a number of tantalizing signs during his brief Team USA tenure that his efforts were bearing fruit, but with that experience cut short by injury our ability to infer from that to the NBA season is limited by a small sample size.

The need for effective, consistent 3-point shooting to maximize the Lakers’ strengths is acute. Through the first five games of the season everyone not named Danny Green on the roster has shot a combined 33-for-120 from deep, amounting to a putrid 27.5%. In spite of that, the Lakers managed to win four of those games – three running away – because James and Davis are so good and the team played suffocating defense.

Yet the offense has been inconsistent. In the opening night loss to the Clippers, the Lakers weren’t able to effectively punish their cross-city rivals for double-teaming Davis in the post because Green was the only one hitting his outside shots, and while there have been fewer posts since, the cold shooting continues.

Even if the others continue to shoot poorly indefinitely, should Kuzma return to his rookie year form from three he will give James and Davis a second kickout option when they attack the basket. In the playoffs where margins are razor thin, the extra spacing Kuzma has the potential to provide could unlock the Lakers’ offense in key situations.

35% on a volume consistent with last year is a reasonable benchmark for success, but if Kuzma is able to keep his volume high while tidying up his shot selection he is capable of much better.

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Creating Shots

Kuzma has the capacity to create shots for himself off the dribble, and displayed some promising growth in his passing touch from year one to year two. While his 3-point percentage cratered in his second year, his 2-point finishing and foul shooting improved markedly enough that his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and true shooting percentage (TS%) barely dropped at all, remaining at about league average. 

Meanwhile, his assists, usage, and points all increased while his turnovers remained constant. Being able to maintain efficiency while shouldering a larger offensive load is an important sign of development for a young player. Kuzma’s doing so even while shooting poorly from distance in his second year speaks to how much the other aspects of his game improved. Any player capable of creating shots for other people as well as themselves can have an outsized effect on offense simply by making the defenders think.

In a playoff setting, defenses will be putting everything on the line in a way they simply do not in the regular season. The first pass out of the paint, for instance from a driving James to Kuzma spotting up for three, is unlikely to create an open shot with regularity in the playoffs. This is where Kuzma’s ability to create for himself off the dribble and create for others when the defense reacts to his aggression will become crucial. 

Because of the addition of Anthony Davis, it is possible that Kuzma will find his usage reduced from last year. This makes monitoring counting stats misleading. Success for Kuzma in this dimension should therefore be measured by increases in his efficiency stats and, more specifically, his ability to attack closeouts and quickly make simple, correct reads on offense.

With the extra space from playing next to James and Davis, Kuzma ought to be able to exceed 55%TS with ease… provided he has the prudence to regulate his shot selection and trust that the points will come.

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(Image/Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

Perimeter Defense

Kyle Kuzma produced many highlights during his rookie year. Almost none of them were defensive. His defensive ineptitude became a punch line in the media. He was undersized against larger Power Forwards in the NBA, and so had problems defending the interior. He also frequently failed to produce the effort required to defend the perimeter effectively, which meant there was nowhere on defense to hide him (and even if there had been, the ability of Luke Walton to find it would have been questionable at best).

While the film and advanced stats tell us that Kuzma was a much improved defender in his second year, the narrative about him has yet to catch up to reality. Expect that to change, and relatively quickly. The primary thing that changed about Kuzma’s defense in his second year was his effort. Kyle Kuzma is a big, long human being, and when he is playing hard on defense that size and his general mobility can create real problems for wings on offense. 

He remains too small to really clamp down in the post on proper bigs, but this team includes Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and JaVale McGee. Post defense and rim protection are not going to be a problem. What the Lakers desperately need is one person aside from Danny Green who can take on the grind of guarding big, athletic perimeter wings on a night to night basis. Capable mid-range scorers with size can exploit the weaknesses in the Lakers’ scheme, and this personnel deficiency amplifies the issue.

Kawhi Leonard torched the Lakers from midrange when Green was off the court because Kentavious Caldwell-Pope simply isn’t large enough to keep him from getting his shot off the screen.

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(Image/Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

A Brief Attempt at Prophecy

As the above discussion ought to have made clear, there are a range of potential outcomes for Kuzma this year. Of the areas analyzed, 3-point shooting remains his biggest question mark. The returns from Team USA were encouraging, but after last year prudence would dictate that we reserve judgment until he actually delivers again at the NBA level.

The added uncertainty of coming back from injury and finding his role within a team that is currently on a roll will probably affect his percentages early on. Provided he is healthy, Kuzma’s percentages should be fairly representative by Christmas. The most likely outcome seems to be a league average, high volume shooter, which is more than good enough.

The narrative this year is finally going to catch up to the reality about Kuzma’s perimeter defense. The open skepticism among basketball media about his ability to fill the necessary role on this team will fuel his already manic thirst to prove himself, and his defense will be the place where that chip on his shoulder is most visible. His effort combined with the fact that having him means coach Frank Vogel will need to rely less on three-guard lineups will greatly improve the defense on the second unit.

Finally, there are few surer bets in the NBA this year than that Kyle Kuzma will attack the basket. Aside from wearing ridiculous clothes, it is his favorite thing to do. The new presence of Anthony Davis as well as the general improvement in depth on the Lakers should secure him plenty of space to operate, and he will use it. The lack of handling and distribution skills among the Laker guards puts his ability to do those things well at a premium, particularly with the bench unit. Expect him to be an 18-20 point per game player and exceed 4 assists per game.

Aside from the debut of Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma’s return is the most anticipated event of the season to date for Laker fans. All indications are that he will have a real impact. While he shot inconsistently in his return, he showed the ability to do a number of things the Lakers will need him to do consistently throughout the year. It remains doubtful that he will attain his coveted All-Star status this year, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

Regardless, his talents are obviously suited to the needs of the team, and every Laker fan should be excited to see what he can do.

By Phil Sizemore (@phsizemore)


Lakers Fanclub UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

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The Lakers Shock the World and Land a Top-4 Draft Pick

(Image/heavy.com)

There has not been much for Laker fans to celebrate about in recent months. News has been replete with story after story of loss and dysfunction of varying sorts. But then came the 2019 draft lottery wherein the Lakers and their fans were granted a much needed reprieve from the recent storm of negative press.

Courtesy of the Lakers’ 37-45 record for the 2018-2019 season, the franchise sat in the 11th spot ahead of the draft lottery and had only a 9.4% chance of jumping into the top-4. A 77.6% chance of remaining exactly where they were on the board seemed the most likely, in fact the odds were actually greater that the Lakers would drop down to the 12th spot (12.6%) than move up. For whatever reason, the basketball gods smiled on the Lakers and their fans and the franchise jumped 7 spots to the #4 pick.

The consequences for this improbable turn of events for the Lakers presents options that were not previously available. First, I’ll play Captain Obvious and point out that better players are available for selection at pick #4 than pick #11. Second, the pick is a much better asset which makes a trade for a second star (e.g. Anthony Davis) much more possible. So either the Lakers could end up with another valuable young player to add to the core or it may help the Lakers put together a trade package for a more established star, a potential win-win.

Of course, there could be some things to point out if one wanted to throw a wet blanket on the Lakers and their fans notwithstanding their lottery jump. For starters, is it a coincidence that the one good thing to happen to the Lakers in months is the one thing in which the Lakers brass had absolutely no control? What’s more, given the news that has come in the past month, can there really be confidence that the Lakers will do the right thing with their newfound asset? Let’s hope so!

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But this isn’t the day for such wet blanket throwing or naysaying. There will be a lot of time in the summer months to dissect how the Lakers handle their business going forward. But not today. Enjoy it, Laker fans. Take as much time as possible to enjoy the feeling of optimism commensurate with the Lakers improbable draft lottery jump.

By Frank Gaulden (@FrankGaulden)