Since entering the NBA in 2017, Kyle Kuzma has made a conscious effort to get as much information as possible from all-time NBA greats. And given that he’s with the Los Angeles Lakers, he has more than a few at his disposal.
The one NBA legend that has taken a particular liking to Kuzma? Kobe Bryant.
In an interview with Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated, Bryant detailed the beginnings of his relationship with Kuzma:
“Cold-called me,” says Kobe. “I liked his curiosity.” Bryant invited Kuzma for a steak dinner. Kuzma was giddy.
A friendship began. Kobe being Kobe, his advice often came in basketball koans. For example: To be unstoppable you must first be predictable. Explains Bryant, “So teams say, ‘O.K., I know Kyle likes to do this.’ All right, that’s great, that’s awesome. Now stop it.” Bryant continues. “Now a team makes you do something else, and you have a counter to that predictable move, and when they cut off that counter, you have a counter to that counter. But first you have to be predictable, because it not only gets you a sense of stability, night in and night out, but it also gets your teammates a sense of stability. Familiarity is extremely important.”
Bryant and Kuzma worked out together over the summer, and Kuzma has said that he texts Bryant for advice often. Bryant shared some of the advice he’s given Kuzma him along the way with Ballard:
Meanwhile, Kobe advised Kuzma to be himself. “A lot of players concern themselves with things that aren’t important,” he says. “The shot they just missed before and potentially missing the next one and then what people may say about them because of it. The true art of any athlete is just to be in the moment.”
Kuzma wasn’t limiting himself to Bryant, however. Even before he and LeBron James were teammates, Kuzma got James’ number and began to ask him for guidance on how to improve:
Granted an audience, Kuzma began picking James’s brain too: How did he take care of his body? How did he avoid the rookie wall?
When James responded, Kuzma couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. “He said, ‘Whatever you do, just make sure you do it consistently, because that’s greatness,’ ” Kuzma recalls. “At the time, I didn’t really understand. It sounded cliché. Like, of course. I know you do some s--- for your body, but what?” Kuzma continues. “But being his teammate now, I see it. He does the same thing every day. He comes to the gym, lifts every day, gets ice, gets a massage, gets treatment after practice. That’s consistency.”
And in addition to the in-house lessons Kuzma gets in the locker room from James, he also has his boss, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, in his ear:
Kuzma felt ready. He’d spent the summer gaining strength and working on his shooting, mimicking Klay Thompson’s form. Still, he struggled at first to find his way alongside James. Seeing this, Johnson, the Lakers’ president, pulled him aside one afternoon. The two shared a bond. Both grew up in Michigan. Both can charm on impact. Both approach the game with palpable joy. Now Magic reminded Kuzma of that last trait. “He said, ‘You’re treating this as a business, you’re not having fun,’ ” Kuzma recalls. “ ‘Last year, you always had a smile on your face. That’s what I want to see.’ It helped.”
Kuzma might be closer to his athletic ceiling than many of his peers taken in the 2017 NBA Draft because he spent three years in college, but his eagerness to get better through learning from the players that did it best could set him apart from the rest of the pack (and arguably has already).
Kuzma is ranked second among sophomores in points per game (19.1), only trailing Donovan Mitchell (22.4 PPG), who was drafted 14 spots ahead of him.
Kuzma might be a flawed player, but he’s working tirelessly to be the best player he can be. Above all else, that’s what you want to see from a young player. Hopefully the advice he’s gotten from these greats — in conjunction with his own efforts — can allow Kuzma to put it all together in time to help the Lakers make some noise in the postseason.
Ballard’s whole feature on Kuzma is worth a read in his entirety, and you can do so here. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @RadRivas.