After a successful sophomore season, Kyle Kuzma has no plans of slowing down

Apr 10, 2019 | by Christian Rivas, SB Nation

Following a successful rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, former No. 27 overall pick Kyle Kuzma avoided the sophomore slump, and looked just as impressive in his second season this year.

Through 70 games with the Lakers this season, Kuzma averaged a career-high 18.7 points on 45.6 percent shooting from the field while grabbing 5.5 rebounds and dishing out 2.5 assists per game. Only six other players under 25 years old were able to match those averages this season: Julius Randle, John Collins, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yes, “The Greek Freak” is only 24 years old. Lord help us all.

But anyway, Kuzma also finished fourth among sophomores in points per game after finishing second among rookies in scoring last season (behind Donovan Mitchell). The kid can flat out score, that much is clear. However, the one area Kuzma took a step back in was his 3-point shooting.

“For me, I know I’m a way better shooter than what I shot this year,” Kuzma told reporters at his exit interview on Wednesday.

Last season, Kuzma shot a respectable 36.6 percent from behind the arc, which was the second-highest average among rookies that attempted at least five 3-pointers per game. 32-year-old rookie Milos Teodosic finished first with 37.9 percent.

This season, Kuzma shot 30.3 percent from 3-point territory, which is the lowest percentage among anyone that attempted at least six 3-pointers per game this year. Granted, head Luke Walton’s offensive scheme didn’t generate the best looks for Kuzma or any of the few shooters on the team, but he couldn’t even hit his wide open 3-pointers with any consistency, shooting just 31.9 percent on wide-open 3-point attempts. For context, he shot 39 percent on wide open 3-point attempts last season.

Kuzma said he’s going to try and get back to becoming a reliable 3-point shooter this summer. How? By getting out of his own head.

“It all goes back to trusting what you do every single day, the form that you shoot,” Kuzma said. “I kind of overanalyzed my jump shot this year, thought about it way too much. I think my rookie year I was just able to let if fly, not really thinking about nothing. Sticking with the same form and the consistency of that, but this year I kind of let it get to me.

“Shooting is more about your mental. Obviously muscle memory, but your mental. Some nights I was confident, some nights you’re going to miss a few and not be as confident. But that’s one area I’m going to be working on this summer,” Kuzma continued. “Having a consistent base of how I shoot and balance. Next year I fully expect to be a totally different shooter.”

In March, Kuzma said he changed his shooting form approximately six times over the course of the season. If that doesn’t sound like someone that’s overthinking it, I don’t know what does.

In spite of his digression from behind the arc, Kuzma said that he thought this season was a success for him and his growth as a player.

“I think the biggest thing I kind of proved to myself and people is that my rookie year wasn’t like a fluke,” Kuzma said. “I had a lot of people telling me ‘it’s always your rookie year, they’ll adjust to you,’ ‘sophomore slump’ ... I was able to really just work hard last offseason and get better and prove to people that I’m worthy enough to be in this league.

“There’s a lot of things I need to work on, so I’m taking this year to really work on everything: my body — I’m trying to be in great shape as possible — and really just work on my overall game.”

It’s true that Kuzma still has a lot of room to grow as a player, particularly on the defensive end, where he showed little improvement despite putting forth more effort, but the player he is now isn’t bad either. In fact, when taking everything into consideration, like injury history and off-the-court concerns, Kuzma probably has the highest trade value among anyone on the team not named LeBron James.

That being said, there’s no reason to believe that Kuzma’s next season won’t be his best yet. Kuzma is dedicated to becoming a better player and it’s shown every year he’s been in the league. Going into his third season, it doesn’t sound like has any plans of slowing down.

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