By Tania Ganguli/Los Angeles Times
Kyle Kuzma was the Lakers’ only young player to escape being part of the cost to acquire Anthony Davis last summer, but the adjustment to his new reality was significant.
During the course of this season, Kuzma’s minutes, points, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage were all lower than in each of his two previous seasons.
This next portion of the season, he thinks, will be important for his own legacy.
“It means a lot and that’s why I’m taking this so serious,” Kuzma said of the NBA’s restart on July 30. “Over this whole quarantine I’ve kind of just been preparing my mind and my body and just getting ready for this opportunity. Not many players have opportunities to win rings. I have a chance to do that in my third year. Kind of really make moves in my career going forward. That’s important.
“Guys can go across this league average 20, 25 (points) and just never win. I don’t want that. I want a legacy. And to do something that as a kid I’ve always wanted to do.”
Although he is younger than most of his teammates, Kuzma hasn’t been immune to injuries. He suffered a stress reaction in his left ankle last summer while practicing with Team USA that caused him to miss four games to start the season. He missed five more games in December due to another ankle injury.
Although he didn’t miss any more games because of injuries, the regular wear of the season meant Kuzma was playing through pain at times. This break has helped.
“I feel unbelievable health-wise,” Kuzma said. “I feel great. Throughout the season had some injuries, playing through injuries. The break allowed me to physically get 100 percent. Mentally, I’ve been reading, meditating and painting a lot. Just preparing my mind for the playoffs. So, I feel great.”
He’s had the help of veteran forward Jared Dudley during the break, too. Dudley who believes in the future of the 24-year-old with whom he says he’s had a relationship for years. Dudley said he has worked with Kuzma on balancing how to contribute to a championship team while still developing his own game.
“We want him to reach his potential,” Dudley said. “During that we can’t have wasted possessions of what we’re trying to accomplish here, especially when you have LeBron and AD on the floor. We can’t waste too many possessions.
“So for me it’s letting him know … your time’s coming, this is what you can improve on while you’re on the floor, when you’re not on the floor with them, and then don’t look at numbers, don’t look at stats. That’s the first thing first.”
The transition has taken patience for Kuzma, who had a bigger role when he was part of a group of young players that included Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, who had only a few years in the NBA before being traded for Davis. Until this season, Kuzma, having spent four years in college, was older than most of his teammates.
In this new scenario, Kuzma keeps himself grounded by looking around the league.
“I just look at Kawhi Leonard for an example,” Kuzma said of the All-Star forward, citing his early days in San Antonio with veteran stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. “He was a Spur for three, four, five years, whatever it was, waited his time behind Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, and did his thing. So I just take away progression mindset to get better every day, focus on what I can control, and my time’s coming.”