When ESPN is running in-game graphics featuring your name alongside Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, and Jerry West for most points per game as a Los Angeles Lakers rookie, it’s safe to say you’re probably going to be alright in the National Basketball Association. Kyle Kuzma, who Lakers fans see as somewhere in between an illuminated gem of a 27th pick and a sort of hybrid Jesus and Kobe Bryant, is the hottest commodity to hit Los Angeles since cold-brew.
Kuzma’s 16.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game show the blueprint of something special, despite his numbers coming back down to earth a bit after a December that led to his earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month. His jump shot, smooth and confident despite cooling as of late, looks like that of a plus-35 percent career three-point shooter. Kuzma moves like a gazelle in full-stride, and within 15 feet of the basket he displays virtuoso-levels of creativity that create offense for either himself or his teammates.
With footwork and spin moves as nasty as this transition bucket against the Utah Jazz in October, the 6’9 rookie forward forces defenders to respect his scoring prowess and simply pray that he fails to make the correct pass. The issue for the opposition? He rarely does.
Kuzma puts on the spin cycle on ESPN! #NBAPreseason pic.twitter.com/bI70q30t5R— NBA (@NBA) October 11, 2017
In the fourth quarter of the Lakers last match-up against the San Antonio Spurs, Kuzma caught the ball at the top of the key and took advantage against a much slower defender in Pau Gasol. Crossing from left to right, Kuzma forced Kyle Anderson off of his man and into help defense, them seamlessly threaded the pass to Larry Nance Jr. for the dunk:
Kyle Kuzma with a slick pass for his fourth helper of the game #NBAVote ( : TNT) pic.twitter.com/7pmWN3vikL— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 12, 2018
When Trevor Ariza attempted to guard Kuzma on a fastbreak in the third quarter of the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Houston Rockets, he utilized his aforementioned lethal transition spin to blow by the noteworthy defender and force Clint Capela to slide over and help. Knowing not to force it against one of the league’s elite shot blockers, Kuzma had the wherewithal to recognize Josh Hart cutting to the hoop to find him for an easy two:
Kyle Kuzma with the nice pass to Josh Hart!— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) January 1, 2018
Illusions of grandeur must be tamed, however, in regards to the scorching career-start far from Kuzmania’s cult leader. It’s a strong possibility, especially if the Lakers are to succeed in any form with their plans of acquiring star talent this offseason to play alongside the team’s prized rookies and second-year stud Brandon Ingram, that Kuzma never averages more points per game than he will in his rookie season. With touches hypothetically being spread between Max Player A and Max Player B, as well as Ball and Ingram, Kuzma’s non-stop green light will fade away like Gatsby’s.
Though with the ability to create his shot, space the floor, and see the court like a lead guard despite being in a forward’s frame, perhaps Laker fans should focus on an exciting Kuzma comparison a bit more realistic than a Biblical savior or Mamba. Kuzma’s frame and game, able to takeover when needed or be content with a win, right decisions and non-Westbrookian stat sheet, is a delightful callback to two-time champion and former Laker Lamar Odom.
From 2008-2010, encompassing the two years in which the Lakers won titles with Lamar rocking the purple and gold, Odom’s averages of 11 points, nine rebounds, and three assists fail to recognize the impact he could have on any given night. A fourth scoring option behind Bryant, Gasol and the then-dominant Andrew Bynum, Odom filled the role that Kuzma may find himself in for years to come in Los Angeles.
Oh yeah, and remember that thing about Kuzma being sort-of wizard-like from 15 feet and in due to his long arms and smooth handle? Well, here’s Lamar:
Kuzma may not be Elgin, Magic, Jerry or even Lamar, but he’s a bona fide stud that promises to be a staple in the league for the next ten years., Those chants of “Kuz” do sound like boos as they descend from the 300 levels of Staples Center down to the hardwood, but like Luke and Zu before him, Kuzma knows that it’s the sincerest sound of admiration from the city of Los Angeles.