Kyle Kuzma has had a hard time shaking the rust off since he made his return from injury on Friday. In three appearances for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kuzma is averaging 9.7 points on 38.7% shooting from the field, including an abysmal 12.5% from 3-point range on 5.3 attempts per game.
However, there’s reason to be optimistic that Kuzma will settle into his role as the No. 3 option next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and it stems from the time he spent with USA Basketball this summer. Through the three exhibition games Kuzma played for Team USA, he showed potential as a playmaker and made his 3-point attempts at an efficient clip (6-8).
Unfortunately, Kuzma had to leave Team USA’s camp early due to the stress reaction that kept him sidelined for all of preseason and the first four games of the regular season. During his brief time with Team USA, though, he made a lasting impression on the team’s head coach, Gregg Popovich.
After the Lakers beat Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, he told Kyle Goon of the OC Register that he enjoyed coaching Kuzma and even compared him to an NBA legend known for providing a scoring punch off of the bench:
“I didn’t know him at all and in all honesty watching him play now and then during the season I didn’t see a lot of rhyme and reason to what he was doing,” Popovich said. “He looked like a young Manu (Ginobili), he was running around, energetic and willing and working hard, but he had no idea what was going to happen.”
Like USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, Popovich thought Kuzma would have been a big help to Team USA, who finished seventh place at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China:
“I can tell you when he got hurt, it was a huge blow for our team, because we were all excited about him,” he said. “He had come a long way in just that short period of time that we had, in every facet of the game. Especially the mental part. He really caught on to the things we were talking to him about and I became a big fan. He was great.”
Kuzma showed flashes of what he worked on while he was with Team USA in the Lakers’ thrilling comeback win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. In 21:08, Kuzma scored 15 points off the bench, including 11 points in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed 7 rebounds.
Kuzma might not go on to have the Basketball Hall of Fame career Ginobili did, but it’s not hard to imagine him making an impact off the bench the same way Ginobili did on the four championship teams he was on. Plus, if Popovich is a fan of Kuzma’s, there must be some untapped potential there.
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