Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team on Tuesday, the latest milestone in what has been a pleasantly surprising start to his NBA career.
However, following the announcement, Kuzma was quick to deflect any praise that came his way to head coach Luke Walton and the Lakers’ coaching staff, who he said had a huge hand in his successful rookie campaign.
“From day one they let me be who I am,” Kuzma said (via Lakers.com). “A lot of rookies that come into the league don’t have the type of leeway coach Walton and his staff really gave me. A lot of it goes to them. Of course, I’m out there doing what I do, but to have a leash like that definitely helped.”
That “leeway” Kuzma referred to included 31.2 minutes per game, which was sixth among rookies in the regular season, and 13.5 field goal attempts per game, the third-most among rookies. But to Kuzma’s credit, he earned that trust from the coaching staff by showing consistent effort every night and emerging as one of the team’s go-to scorers in crunch time.
“He plays to exhaustion, and then most times plays through it. They have the saying, ‘Fatigue makes a coward of us all.’ And that’s true, except for a few special players. They know how to fight through that,” Walton said of Kuzma in April (via Harrison Faigen).
Walton faced heavy criticism from the Lakers’ fanbase early on in his head coaching career for some of his personnel decisions, but like the young players on the team, Walton also showed improvement throughout the season. Now Walton and the culture he’s instilled within the organization will be key selling points to free agents this summer.
With the Lakers’ first preseason game still months away, Walton, Kuzma, and the rest of the gang will be in the gym hoping to build on the success they enjoyed as a group last season.