When the Los Angeles Lakers and Luke Walton mutually agreed to part ways in April, there was no team-wide effort to keep him around for another, no going away balloons — just a quick divorce. However, there was one player that publicly wished Walton well and thanked him for his time in L.A.: Kyle Kuzma.
When the Lakers made Walton’s departure official, Kuzma took to Twitter to thank Walton and his coaching staff for the opportunity and support they gave him during his first two years in the NBA:
Want to thank Luke and the rest of the coaching staff for allowing me to be me from day 1 they say opportunity is everything in the league and they gave me that right from the jump. https://t.co/CcvHJRr7TH— kuz (@kylekuzma) April 12, 2019
After Kuzma and the Lakers beat the Walton-led Sacramento Kings on Friday, Kuzma reiterated the respect he has for Walton and credited him for the position he’s in now.
“Luke means a lot to m,” Kuzma said. “He’s put me in a great situation in my career early. Let me kinda play through mistakes and let me just play as a rookie and a sophomore, and instill confidence in myself. Really allowing me to be the player who I am, and not really put me in a box. So, Luke is probably the biggest part of my career early on so far.”
Under Walton, Kuzma started 105 of 144 of the games he was available for, including 37 games in his rookie season. While a lot of the opportunities Kuzma got during his rookie season were a result of injury, Walton said he was high on Kuzma as a player right away.
“I’ve always thought Kuz has a very high ceiling for the type of player he can be,” Walton said before tip-off on Friday. “He’s versatile, he’s perfect for today’s NBA. He can shoot, penetrate, dribble, pass, all those things. So for him to be able to play with LeBron and AD and continue to get those minutes and experience that, I think he’ll just continue to grow as a player.”
Kuzma got off to a slow start to the season after being sidelined for almost three months, but he’s looked as good he’s ever looked recently. In his last four games, Kuzma has averaged 18.3 points per game on 52% shooting from the field, including 46.2% from 3-point territory. Last season, Kuzma averaged 18.7 points per game on 45.6% shooting from the field, including 30.3% from behind the arc.
It’s a small sample size, but an encouraging one — especially considering this year’s roster looks drastically different from last year’s and Kuzma is playing a different role. If Kuzma lives up to the hype in his third season and emerges as the third-best player on the roster next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Walton should get some credit for letting Kuzma work through his growing pains and show what a gifted scorer he is.
Walton wasn’t a perfect coach by any stretch of the imagination, but he at least got one thing right with Kuzma.