The Los Angeles Lakers have been far better than most expected, riding the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA (101) to an 8-11 record. The team’s offense hasn’t been quite as strong, ranking 27th in the NBA while scoring just 99.2 points per 100 possessions.
Turnovers have plagued the offense, which Lonzo Ball and head coach Luke Walton mentioned as needing improvement. One big reason the Lakers have hovered around .500 and in the playoff picture is the stellar play of breakout rookie Kyle Kuzma.
After cracking the starting lineup, Kuzma has gone on to lead the Lakers in scoring with 16.8 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting while connecting on 36.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
Kuzma’s play has helped the Lakers force their way into the playoff race, with the team currently just on the outside looking in while tied with the Utah Jazz for the ninth-best record in the Western Conference.
During a wide-ranging Q&A session on Twitter, Kuzma succinctly said his next goal is for the Lakers is to make the playoffs:
— kuz (@kylekuzma) November 24, 2017
On the surface, qualifying for the playoffs might seem like a lofty goal, but the Lakers have survived some truly atrocious 3-point shooting (they are shooting a league-worst 31 percent from behind the arc) and turnover issues (they average a second-worst in the NBA 17.3 per game) to get into the fringes of the playoff race.
That the Lakers done so with young players who will presumably improve offensively while playing rock-solid defense offers further testament to the fact that they have a fighter’s chance to finish among the top eight teams in the conference.
Still, young teams generally don’t make the playoffs so early in their development process, and the Western Conference is as tough as it’s ever been. The Lakers are also about to enter an incredibly difficult stretch of their schedule that will see them play Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets twice and Cleveland Cavaliers once over the next few weeks.
If they can survive December intact, then their playoff chances will seem a lot more legit. Until then, it’s just a good sign for the team that Kuzma can say playing beyond the regular season is their goal confidently and not get laughed off the internet like he would’ve the last several years.
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