Since Kyle Kuzma began to impress in Las Vegas Summer League before his rookie season, it’s come with the caveat that he largely is a one-dimensional players. After earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team, Kuzma was challenged by the Lakers front office to improve all around.
Although he was praised for an offseason full of growth, Kuzma struggled on defense when tasked with playing the role of center in a small-ball lineup. Tyson Chandler’s arrival has allowed the Lakers to avoid needing to go small, and put Kuzma back in his more natural position.
In recent games he’s been tasked with defending the likes of Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic
and Luka Doncic on the perimeter, to which he’s succeeded. “He’s done a nice job on those type of players,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.
“It’s good for him to have a mission out there to be able to focus on defense. We’re looking for matchups we can use his size, strength and athleticism to give us an advantage. He’s done a really good job with it.”
While his effectiveness may fluctuate, there’s no denying Kuzma has committed to improving on defense. “He’s had that desire since we drafted him,” Walton noted.
Kuzma explained that stems from wanting to become “an all-around player.” That’s entailed sending clips to Walton and Rajon Rondo and asking for feedback, and seeking out guidance and insight from LeBron James.
Though, in addition to becoming more of student in the film room, Kuzma credited a change in mindset for the strides he’s made. “Really trying to be aggressive. A lot of the times I’m really conservative and I give guys too much respect,” he said.
“The past few games I’ve just been trying to be ultra-aggressive, get up in guys. It’s really getting me amped up and excited to play defense. I know that I can do it. I think the narrative is I just don’t play defense, but if you watch as the season progressed, I’ve been getting better and better every single game.
“Making that effort. I just want to be a complete player, and all great players do it on both ends.”
Kuzma admitted being tasked with defending the perimeter better falls in line with his comfort zone. “I’m a little more comfortable guarding guys off screens,” he said. “It kind of keeps me engaged in the game, engaged to locking in. If you fall asleep on a shooter, they’re going to come off a screen and hit.
“I don’t want to get yelled at.”