The Los Angeles Lakers have spent the last several seasons mining gems deep in the NBA draft, dating back to landing Jordan Clarkson for cash considerations to the Washington Wizards. They hit the jackpot with No. 27 pick Kyle Kuzma, though, landing their first true Rookie of the Year candidate after years of picking in the lottery.
What stands out to Lakers head coach Luke Walton aren’t the 30-plus point outings, like the one we saw on Christmas Day, but his mentality after the game is over.
“What's most impressive to me about him is that he's upset after the games because even though he played great, we lost. He comes in here today and he's hungry to work again, and those are the things that have me excited about Kuzma,” Walton said after practice Tuesday.
“His competitiveness is awesome. Whether it's a shooting drill versus Coach Shaw and Miles, or it's playing one-on-one after practice, or when they were all here in the summer time scrimmaging, he goes as hard as he can and does everything he can possibly do to try to win that game.
“I think that's the type of people and the type of culture that we want around here,” Walton said.
Kuzma has nearly split his season down the middle between starts and playing off the bench, stepping into the starting five 15 times this season. He’s averaging 36.7 minutes, 20.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game as a starter. Kyle’s also proving he can contribute as a hyper-productive sixth man as well, averaging 15.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists off the bench.
It doesn’t matter what the role, or situation, is. Kuzma turned the hype surrounding him during Las Vegas Summer League into hype surrounding him every time he steps on the court.
“It just doesn't faze him. He'll have off nights, he'll have off moments, but he just keeps coming, and he's doing a really nice job of establishing himself early in this season, as far as being a rookie and getting the respect around the league and around his teammates,” Walton said.
It’s been a long time since the Lakers franchise, and fan base, has all agreed on their love for one of their drafted rookies. Kyle Kuzma, so indisputably good he can unite the entire legion of Lakers fans around the world.