Kyle Kuzma shines in role with L.A. as rebounder, defensive stopper

Longest tenured Laker focusing his effort on rebounding
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LOS ANGLES -- Before the season started, Kyle Kuzma openly contemplated his role with the Los Angeles Lakers and whether the organization that selected him in the first round of the 2017 draft even wanted him around for the long haul.

Well, the Lakers answered the second question by signing him to a three-year, $40 million extension in December.

Kuzma answered the first question with his play, earning a role as a do-everything jolt of energy off the bench and a spot starter for the Lakers, helping them jump out to a 21-6 record in the team’s defense of their NBA championship.

“Kyle has finally figured it out,” LeBron James said. “He’s figured out what he means to this team. He’s figured out what his role is, and he’s starring in his role. He’s offensive rebounding right now, his attention to detail and running the floor and he’s knocking down shots at a high level. We’re going to be even more dynamic with Kuzma being in the position that he’s in right now.

“He’s just playing some really good basketball. I think the extension, him signing that deal before the season game him a sense of calmness as well. So, he’s just playing basketball, and that’s it.”

The longest-tenured player on the Lakers, the 25-year-old Kuzma has shown a maturity and evolution in his game this season, understanding how to play and fill in the gaps with two, ball-dominant players on the floor in James and Anthony Davis.

“He’s been good for us,” added Davis. He’s grown. He’s playmaking is better. His catch-and-shoot has been better. And his value to our team has grown from even the beginning of last year until now. He’s making huge plays for us. His effort and energy is there every night. He’s rebounding, making the hustle plays – things you didn’t see a lot of last game, or you saw spurts of it, but now he’s doing it every game.”

Added Lakers head coach Frank Vogel: “When AD (Davis) came here, Kuzma’s role changed. It was going to be a team built around AD and LeBron, they’re going to be the primary options offensively. He’s going to be more of a second-side scorer and find ways to impact the game type of role. And he’s really taken that and ran with hit.”

Through 27 games -- including six starts -- Kuzma’s averaging 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a contest, shooting 36.2 percent from beyond the arc. Kuzma finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

“My game is just rebounding right now,” Kuzma said. “I’m just trying to play as hard as I possibly can. That’s a big factor for this team, it’s what this team needs and that’s what I’m providing for them.”