The Los Angeles Lakers have held onto Kyle Kuzma through multiple opportunities to trade him. His development could move quicker, and the Lakers would be wise to find ways to make that happen.
Talent identification in the NBA can be an arduous task. Most NBA players can sit in a category of either “good” or “bad”, with debates enraging each one over whether or not they’ve been properly assessed by the general public.
Kuzma is one of the most perplexing talents in the NBA for fans and experts alike. He is seemingly good and bad all at once, often showing flashes of brilliance with an equal amount of boneheaded mistakes. His capricious play night in and night out — no, play in and play out — can be frustrating for fans.
It is not unheard of for a third-year player to make mistakes, but the third year is generally the year that most players are expected to make their leap and show the true being of what they will step up to be in their NBA careers.
Being mentioned as a possible trade piece for the last two seasons now for the Los Angeles Lakers and remaining with the team all throughout, the talk around him often balloons his reputation. That’s the result of playing in Los Angeles with one of the world’s best players.
For Kuzma, that expectation was extreme. He was one of the sole remaining young pieces from the Anthony Davis trade (Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball were all sent to the New Orleans Pelicans). The Lakers were expected to compete for a title, and with minimal free agency gains (Kawhi Leonard opted to go to the other team that played in the STAPLES Center), Kuzma was shoehorned as a major piece of the puzzle for the Lakers this season.
If we parse the play-by-play performance of any player in the NBA — something this article will do on the topic of Kuzma — we can find considerable flaws in just about anyone’s game and shine a light on turnovers and mistakes, but on a widespread level, Kuzma has not had a good year.
He’s taken a step back compared to 2018-19 in points and assists per 36 minutes. His OBPM and DBPM (catch-all metrics for offensive and defensive production) are at career lows. His Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) is worst on the entire Los Angeles Lakers team (-0.5), despite him playing fifth-most minutes.
He excels in almost nothing. Kuzma is in the 19th percentile in isolation plays, 30th percentile in transition plays, 21st percentile in cutting plays. He’s middle of the road in the pick and roll (as both a ball-handler and a roll man). The closest he gets to excellence statistically is with spot-up shooting where he sits in the 68th percentile.
In many ways, it feels as if the Lakers still have the training wheels on for Kuzma, and that’s probably the way it needs to be for now for the majority of his minutes. He has moments of excellence, but those moments are often predicated on the vision of LeBron James (or in some instances, Rajon Rondo).
There’s a potential for growth with Kuzma, but it’s going to be something he and the Los Angeles Lakers need to work on in the coming seasons in order to actualize.
In order to understand where Kuzma needs to go, we need to first understand something that is helping him find immediate success and simultaneously holding him back from long-term growth.