Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has impressed on the offensive end during his rookie season in the NBA, averaging a team-high 16.8 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting. Where he has erred at times, however, is the other end of the floor.
After Kuzma scored a team-high 22 points in the Lakers’ 118-95 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday night, Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he’s told Kuzma he wants to see more from him on defense. “I thought he really played a solid game. I challenged him before the game to on the defensive end kind of get his edge back,” Walton said.
“I feel like earlier in the season, even in the summertime when our guys were playing pickup and going through drills, on the defensive end he had that same edge that he has on the offensive end. I challenged him to get that mindset back.
Most rookies struggle on defense, and Kuzma hasn’t proven to be an exception to that stereotype, much like Lonzo Ball. The Lakers are never better on defense than when Kuzma sits, allowing just 98.3 points per 100 possessions compared to the 105.8 opposing teams average when Kuzma is on the court.
Those struggles don’t mean the Lakers should bench Kuzma, because he has the exact opposite effect on their offense that he does on their defense. The Lakers’ offense is at its worst with Kuzma on the bench, struggling to score 96.1 points per 100 possessions compared to the 101.7 it averages with him on the floor.
Kuzma is one of the few Lakers who can both shoot threes well and create his own shot, making him an invaluable cog in making the team’s attack anywhere close to competent. Walton just wants to see Kuzma’s defensive ability and effort get a little closer to the quality he’s shown offensively.
“He’s one of our tougher players. We need him to have that edge on both sides of the court,” Walton explained.
Most rookies get better on defense as their careers move along, and Kuzma showed flashes of being able to guard basically any position on the floor during Las Vegas Summer League. He believed Sunday’s game was a strong example of what he’s capable of.
“Multiple times I switched on (James) Harden, and outside of the one layup he had one me, I did really good,” Kuzma said. “That’s one thing I’m really focused on. That and rebounding. Not so much scoring right now.”