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Los Angeles Lakers

Summer Workout Plan: What is Kyle Kuzma's path towards becoming the Los Angeles Lakers' third star?

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Kyle Kuzma (NBA Canada Illustrations)

Throughout the offseason we're rolling out a "Summer Workout Plan" series that takes a look at young players with star potential and dives into one specific area for improvement in order to take the next step. Players we've profiled so far include Pascal Siakam, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Jamal Murray and Bam Adebayo.

Through two seasons of his NBA career, we've seen two very different sides to Kyle Kuzma.

Despite being the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kuzma made an immediate impact on the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie, largely due to his ability to space the floor as a power forward. He averaged 5.6 3-point attempts per game and made 36.6 percent of those opportunities, numbers we've only ever seen from seven first-year players before.

In his second season, Kuzma struggled to make 3s with the same regularity. He took slightly more per game (6.0) but made them at a significantly lower rate (30.3 percent).

The result? Kuzma went from being in the same company as Damian Lillard as a rookie to joining Russell Westbrook and Lonzo Ball as a high volume, inefficient outside shooter as a sophomore.

"For me, I know I'm a way better shooter than what I shot this year," Kuzma said in his exit interview.

MORE: Offseason grade for the Lakers

Kuzma is more than a shooter, but it's still a huge part of his game - 40.4 percent of his field goal attempts so far in his NBA career have come from the 3-point line. And following the moves the Lakers made this summer, it could become an even bigger part of his game next season.

With Anthony Davis now on the team, the Lakers will run almost everything through him and LeBron James, with pick-and-rolls between the two superstars expected to be a staple in their offence because of how difficult it'll be for opponents to scheme for. Even at age 34, James might be the scariest player in the league when he's attacking downhill, and Davis is by far and away the most versatile roll man he's ever played with. They are also both adept at creating their own shot in isolation, giving them an answer to switch-heavy defenses.

The only way teams will have a realistic shot of slowing down pick-and-rolls or isolations involving James and Davis is by helping off of their teammates to crowd the paint, which is why Lakers head coach Frank Vogel will need to surround them with shooters at the other positions.

The Lakers signed three knockdown shooters this offseason who should complement James and Davis well in that regard in Danny Green, Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook, but it's hard to imagine Daniels and Cook playing in crunch time due to their limitations as playmakers and defenders. They have a number of other willing shooters - one of the biggest differences between next season's roster and last season's - albeit ones who struggle with consistency (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley) or ones who are more selective with when they shoot (Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso and Jared Dudley).

MORE: How Lakers' signings fit with LeBron and Davis

Kuzma, of course, falls into the former category, being a volume 3-point shooter who saw his efficiency nosedive as a sophomore.

If Kuzma can return to being the shooter he was in his rookie season, it would make him a natural fit alongside James and Davis because he'd be able to punish teams for helping off of him in ways he couldn't last season. Kuzma wasn't even able to make wide open shots at a respectable level in 2018-19 - not even ones set up by James - leading to possessions like this, in which Minnesota Timberwolves centre Karl-Anthony Towns ignores him in the corner to stop James from getting all the way to the basket:

It's rare for Kuzma to be defended by a centre, but by virtue of being a power forward as opposed to a guard, his defender - think the PJ Tuckers, Pascal Siakams and Taj Gibsons of the NBA - is more likely to help off of him than, for example, Rondo's or Green's are. Not only do they have a better shot of matching up with James and Davis physically, they're usually in better position to provide help because Kuzma is often stationed in the corner or spotting-up on the weakside.

With how dominant of a scorer James is, teams defended Kuzma in similar fashion whenever he was involved in on-ball actions with the 15-time All-Star. The Lakers have experimented with using him as a screener in pick-and-rolls, but with the way he shot the ball last season, his defender wasn't afraid to help off of him to load up on James.

James didn't have that same problem with Kevin Love in the four years they were teammates. While Love proved to be one of the best shooters at his position during his time with the Timberwolves, it wasn't until he joined the Cavaliers that he became a true stretch four. 3-pointers went from making up a quarter of his field goal attempts in Minnesota to almost half in Cleveland, and he made 37.7 percent of his triples between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 season.

Kuzma would ideally fill a similar role in Los Angeles, cementing himself as James' go-to shooter and preferred pick-and-pop partner.

Kuzma knows those shots are going to be there for the taking next season, too. Him saying he believes he's capable of being the third star James and Davis needs grabbed headlines this offseason, but he showed an important awareness of his role in the same interview with ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk.

"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."

The encouraging sign is that Kuzma improved in almost every other area last season. He quickly developed chemistry with James as a cutter and became a more efficient scorer from midrange and at the rim, most notably as a driver. The more consistent he becomes as a 3-point shooter, the more opportunities he should get to showcase those parts of his game.

That doesn't necessarily mean he's destined for superstardom in Los Angeles, but with how much of a need there is for his skill set on this roster, him breaking out could be the difference between the Lakers being contenders and pretenders next season.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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