clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kyle Kuzma showed why the Lakers were doing backflips about drafting him in loss to Celtics

New, comments

The team was enthusiastic about selecting him, and Kuzma offered fans a glimpse of why.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS- Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka likes to refer to himself as a storyteller, and one of the more vivid scenes he’s set so far during his press conferences since joining the team was his description of the team’s reaction to the opportunity to draft rookie forward Kyle Kuzma.

“When he was available for us at No. 27 we were doing backflips,” Pelinka told reporters at the time. In the Lakers’ 86-81 loss to the Boston Celtics in their second game of Las Vegas Summer League, Kuzma showed why his availability led to such an athletic display from the front office.

After a mediocre debut against the LA Clippers, Kuzma shined against Boston, pouring in a team-leading 31 points on 26 shots while making five of his 10 3-point attempts.

"I had a good game yesterday, I just wanted to be more aggressive,” Kuzma said. “I wanted to come out and just shoot those shots if they were open, and they went in."

Kuzma felt those shots went in in large part due to the work he’s put in over the offseason.

"After the season one thing that I really wanted to do is improve my shooting and get in the gym every single day and really focus on that. That's one of my weaknesses and I want to keep shooting until that's not a weakness anymore,” Kuzma said. “I still got a long ways to go, but it's getting better."

His shooting certainly seems better, but a player who shot 30.2 percent on threes in college to knocking down 50 percent of his triples in a game still wasn’t the Lakers coaching staff’s expectation going into summer league.

“[His shot] hasn't been super consistent through our little training camp and summer league,” said Lakers summer league head coach Jud Buechler. “Obviously he can get it going, he's a streaky shooter, and when he gets it going he can really light it up.”

Light it up Kuzma did, and the rookie himself wasn’t surprised by his newfound long-distance prowess, because he feels that the NBA three is a better shot for him than the college one.

“I know I've got to get my legs into it. The college three you can kind of shoot that like a free-throw if you want to,” Kuzma explained. “Being that deep I really have to focus on getting my legs into it and just the mechanics of my shot, and by doing that I'm more effective."

By the end of the game, Kuzma’s effectiveness had the first sold out crowd in Las Vegas Summer League history buzzing nearly as much for each of his attempts as it was for the much more highly-hyped Lonzo Ball, and he clearly already has some fans.

The crowd wasn’t the only aspect of the atmosphere that was surreal for Kuzma.

“You look on the sidelines and you see Magic Johnson, you see Floyd Mayweather, you see other NBA players. It's pretty dope to put on a show in front of those guys and all of these fans. Just playing itself is a blessing,” Kuzma said.

Despite that excitement, Kuzma wants to be known for more than his shot

"Play defense and rebound,” Kuzma said of his goals when he’s on the floor. “That's my calling card and what I do well. Everything else is a bonus."

His shooting was certainly a bonus for the Lakers as he set nets ablaze Saturday, but Kuzma says his checklist for Las Vegas extends beyond putting his new shot and the rest of his game on display.

"Summer League, of course you want to win, but it's important to learn each other, learn how each other plays and just get used to this level,” Kuzma said.

If this was just Kuzma getting used to the NBA level and he continues to iron out his flaws, the Lakers front office may have a few more backflips left in them.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.