NBA

Kyle Kuzma is confident he’ll be an All-Star and average 25 PPG next season if he isn’t “in an inconsistent role”

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 13: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up before the game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on October 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Kyle Kuzma has had a strange career path. The rebuilding Lakers drafted him late in the first round of the 2017 draft. Under ordinary circumstances, this would have meant plenty of time to develop among a young core. However, LeBron James signed with LA the next offseason. Suddenly there was immediate pressure to win. LeBron’s first year on the Lakers was disappointing, though it was Kuzma’s best year in many respects.

That summer, they traded every young prospect other than Kuzma to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis. While the trade propelled the Lakers to a championship, it also relegated Kuzma to a reserve role, in which he has struggled. But in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Kuzma expressed belief that he could become an all-star in the right situation.

Uneven development

May 15, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) dribbles the ball while Indiana Pacers forward Doug McDermott (20) defends in the third quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

For a 27th overall pick, Kuzma immediately exceeded expectations. In his rookie year, he averaged 16 points per game on not bad shooting. In his first year with LeBron, he raised that scoring average, although his three-point shooting dipped. But that year, he started 68 out of the 70 games he played. This was the key. He got lots of opportunities playing next to one of the greatest players of all time.

After the Davis trade, Kuzma started only nine games. There is nothing the Lakers could do about this. Kuzma is a forward, and they had two of the best forwards in the game. His scoring dropped nearly six points per game, down to 12.7, though he improved into a positive defensive contributor. And then this year, he stagnated in mostly the same role, although injuries to Davis and James propelled him into the starting lineup on occasion.

Playoff woes

During last season’s championship run, Kuzma averaged only 10 points per game on bad shooting splits. He chipped in only three rebounds. He provided valuable defense but not enough offense. This year, he was even worse in LA’s first-round exit against Phoenix. Kuzma averaged 6.3 points per game, shooting 29.2% from the field and 17.4% from three. Among all 238 playoff players, that two-point percentage ranks 192nd. And among all players to make a three, Kuzma’s percentage is fifth-to-last. Suffice it to say, Kuzma had a terrible series. And as with Ben Simmons, people get highly critical after bad playoff performances.

Confidence for the future

May 7, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Los Angeles Lakers small forward Kyle Kuzma (0) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Turkic (27) during the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The internet loves to bully the Lakers for deeming Kuzma untradeable over Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. But before the Davis trade, he was on track to be a great player. And his belief has not wavered, even as his numbers have dipped. Kuzma recently said that it was difficult to succeed when he didn’t know his role on the team.

“A little bit of everything [contributed to the disappointing year]. Injuries throughout the season, changing roles, certain guys in the lineup, certain guys not in the lineup. The NBA season is already mentally draining, and when you have a lot of that, it just adds to it,”

-Kyle Kuzma on the Lakers’ 2020-2021 struggles

Kuzma still believes that he can do more if he knows his role. In his first year, he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. In his second year, he was second to only LeBron on the Lakers in scoring. And he knows that if he can rediscover the right role, he can return to that potential.

My biggest thing is I just want to play within a consistent role. If I have that ability, I’ll be able to showcase what I can really do. There were parts of this year�and even anywhere else in my career�when I’m in a consistent space, I’m out there handling the ball, making teammates better, scoring, shooting, defending, rebounding. I think if I’m in that space, I’ll be good.”

-Kyle Kuzma on what he needs to be successful

All-Star potential for Kuzma

Apr 17, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) is defended by Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang (31) in the second half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Kuzma expressed nothing but confidence when asked if he could reach superstardom. If the goal is to average 25 ppg and make the all-star game, Kuzma believes it is well within reach.

“I definitely can. I definitely believe that, too. I don’t really care what nobody thinks or says. I know myself, and I know my ability. It’s hard to be consistent in an inconsistent role. I’m excited for a more consistent space next year.”

-Kyle Kuzma on reaching the all-star game and averaging 25 pgg

His confidence in his potential stems primarily from his work ethic. Kuzma believes (rightly so) that he has improved his game every offseason. If he can continue to do so, especially now on the offensive end, he can be a great two-way player.

“I’ve done a great job every offseason of trying to build something and add something to my game. I’ve turned myself into a great defender. My rookie year, I was a stop sign on defense. I didn’t really stop anybody. Now, whether it’s elite wings, 4 men, even point guards and shooting guards, I have the ability to guard four positions now and really affect the game on that end of the court.”

-Kyle Kuzma on his offseason improvement

Coming off a disappointing year, it is bold to express such confidence. However, Kuzma has flashed great potential at times. The next step is seeing if he can develop more consistency and take his game up a level. Otherwise, this is all talk.

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