Editor’s Note: Daniel Flores has joined the Silver Screen and Roll party, bringing his blogging experience and passionate fandom for the Lakers to our corner of the Internet! Give the man a follow over here, and enjoy him waxing a bit about the Kuzmania that’s running wild across the nation!
The 27th overall pick of 2017 NBA Draft has been of one the early surprises this young NBA season. Going into the draft, the deep draft scouts were excited about the potential of Kyle Kuzma’s skillset. Julian Applebome of Draftexpress.com had this to say in a scouting report about the University of Utah power forward.
“Standing 6'9.5 with a wingspan just over 7', Kuzma has the physical tools, fluidity, and budding skill set to fit the role of a modern-day NBA power forward. He is light on his feet, shows excellent speed in transition, and has the athleticism to finish above the rim in space.” Applebome continued, “His biggest assets from a physical perspective are his agility, quickness and footwork, which he shows sprinting the floor, diving to the rim off the ball or out of pick-and-roll, and in small spurts on defense.”
Then, 2017 draft night came along, and Los Angeles Lakers fans didn’t have Kyle Kuzma on their minds. Most were preparing for Lonzo Ball’s journey to becoming a Laker to be completed, or perhaps wondering the the Lakers would pull the trigger on a Paul George trade. The sting of trading D’Angelo Russell was another hot topic at the time.
Then, when it came time to take Kuzma with the 27th pick, many experts were perplexed with the Lakers’ choice to take him, and even he knew it.
“Everybody thought I was going to be on the board much later. I kinda took that on the chin, and said, ‘OK, well, I gotta do it at summer league now.’ Right after that, I took a flight to San Diego to work with my trainer and start getting ready for summer league,” Kuzma said.
After the draft, the newest Lakers made the annual trip to Las Vegas to compete in summer league. This is where Kuzma first grabbed everyone’s attention. In Vegas, Kuzma caught Lonzo’s outlet passes that were reminiscent of Tom Brady throwing touchdowns to Randy Moss, showed his wide range of offensive weapons, and earned MVP of the Summer League championship game. During his time in Sin City, Kuzma averaged 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists.
The next challenge for the rookie forward was to continue his hot play into preseason. Kuzma lived up to the elevated expectations he created for himself, scoring a league-leading 104 points on 51.4 percent shooting through exhibition. His play further proved the Lakers’ front office had found yet another gem late in the draft. Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told Mike Trudell, just how lucky they felt on draft night.
“Kuzma was the highest guy on our board when we came up at No. 27. We actually had him much higher than 27th on our board; it just worked out that he fell to us.” Buss said.
“We were ecstatic when we made the pick.”
Still, even after all of this, many remained skeptical that this success would continue into the regular season. Once again, Kuzma was ready to prove himself. At the start of the regular season, he saw success as a member of the Lakers’ bench mob, where he averaged 15.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and shot 54.3 percent from the field.
Then, after the unfortunate injury to Larry Nance Jr., the Lakers rookie was given an opportunity to be an NBA starter. His first NBA start came against the team that traded him away on draft night, the Brooklyn Nets. Once again, the talk going into the evening revolved around D’Angelo Russell, but once again, Kuzma forced a change of narrative. Kuzma exploded for 21 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 72.7 percent from the field. As a part of the starting lineup, Kuzma has averaged 36.5 minutes, 14.3 points and ten rebounds.
While his play has cooled off a little, hopes are still high for the newest member of the starting lineup, and no one has higher expectations for Kuzma than Kuzma.
“I don’t really compare rookies because my focus is one, winning, and two, I try to focus on all the top players in the league, because that’s where I want to be, so I don’t feel like rookies are a stick point for me to try to battle with,” Kuzma said.
“I look at guys like [Giannis] Antetokounmpo and LeBron [James] because eventually, that’s where I want to be.”
The expectations continue to only grow taller for Kuzma, and with any luck, he’ll continue proving himself throughout his Lakers career.