Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
As usual, Kyle Kuzma is holding himself to a high standard entering his third season with the Lakers.
When current Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, he created a new league trend. By pairing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he kicked off years of just about every team trying to find their “Big Three.”
That lasted for nearly a decade, with teams hoarding cap space just for the opportunity to give it to three superstars, a trend that seemingly reversed this summer, in which a flurry of player movement made it so that nearly ever contender is now built around a “Big Two,” with James and Anthony Davis merely serving as one example.
But even if the trends have shifted away from three established stars trying to link up in free agency, the Lakers surely wouldn’t say no to a “Big Three” of their own if Kyle Kuzma naturally developed into a third franchise pillar to share the spotlight with James and Davis.
While it remains to be seen how reasonable of an expectation that is, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN that he is confident he can make it happen:
“I don’t feel no pressure, but I believe that I am capable of being that superstar,” Kuzma told ESPN. “I put a lot of work in. My progress through my journey shows that I can be there. I developed every single year, dating back to college, and I don’t see that development stunting at all.”
Kuzma added, “Last year I didn’t shoot the ball well, and I still averaged almost 20 [points per game]. If I can shoot the ball well and keep developing the facets of my game defensively, I don’t see why I can’t [be that third star].”
Kuzma — the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — becoming a star would certainly be another instance of him massively outperforming expectations for himself, so while there are reasons to be skeptical he can do it, he’s proved doubts about his abilities wrong for basically his whole career.
The third-year forward has already detailed how he plans to improve as a shooter and what he’s doing to get better defensively, and he thinks that playing with James and Davis fits his game perfectly, accentuating his strengths as a scorer to the point that he’ll be able to make a leap:
Kuzma, who saw his 3-point shooting dip from 36.6% as a rookie to 30.3% last season, believes he fits in seamlessly alongside James and Davis.
”I’ve never been a ball-dominant guy,” Kuzma said. “I’ve always played off the ball. It is going to be a little bit easier, going to have a lot of open shots. It is my job to trust my summer workouts and what I’ve done. Just breathe, focus and knock those shots down, because I’m going to be open.”
Kuzma is exactly right about what his offensive responsibilities are going to be on this specific Lakers team, so it’s good that when he talks about being a star, he doesn’t mean in a way that would require him to go way outside of his projected role on this roster, and take more shots than his game necessarily warrants right now.
And after receiving more assists from LeBron James last year than any other player on the Lakers, Kuzma has also shown that he has learned the nuances of how to play off of a superstar. If he keeps moving without the ball and lets fire when he’s open, he should thrive even more alongside two of them, as long as he curtails his addiction to mid-range pull-ups.
Will that allow him to be a star? It sort of depends on one’s definition of the term. If Kuzma can continue to flash his smooth scoring skills while racking up efficient buckets for a contending Lakers team, it may not actually matter if he has a star-like impact on his own, the perception of him may shift towards him being that third star regardless.
Does that mean he could instantly go and lift another team that doesn’t have James and Davis, or become an All-Star this year? Both of those things seem far less likely, but also ultimately don’t matter. If Kuzma — already a fan-favorite — can score as easily as it looks like he’ll have the opportunity to on this team, he may be able to masquerade as a star, at least in the minds of those watching.
The other thing to acknowledge here is that Kuzma has very rarely been wrong when betting on himself, so even if true “star” production seems like it might not be in the cards, doubting him comes with the very real risk of being wrong if his career trajectory of outperforming any critiques continues the way it has. We’ll see if this is just the latest instance of Kuzma doing so when the season kicks off in about two months.