Back in 2017, before the Los Angeles Lakers would ultimately select Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick in the NBA Draft, Kuzma also worked out for the San Antonio Spurs. And while the Lakers would ultimately snag Kuzma before the Spurs could select him, Kuzma’s trainer said back then that San Antonio was “really interested” in grabbing Kuzma with the 29th pick.
In that context, Monday’s first day of training camp for USA Basketball, where Kuzma is getting to work with national team head coach Gregg Popovich, was a vision of what could have been for San Antonio had Kuzma not caught the eye of veteran Lakers scout Bill Bertka.
And while no one would accuse Kuzma of being anything less than thrilled with the way things turned out — being a Laker is an opportunity he’s made it clear time and time again that he relishes — he certainly made it sound like he appreciates the chance to learn from Popovich now (via USA Basketball):
“He’s my favorite coach of all time. Growing up, I’m a hoops junkie, watching a lot of the Spurs teams and he’s won. He’s won at every level he’s been at. So, to be here and learn, to be around him, it’s really great.”
As to what Kuzma is hoping to learn from Popovich, he’s not picky.
“A little bit of everything. He’s been around the game for years and years and years, so I want to be a sponge. Not just Pop, we have Jay Wright here, Steve Kerr, so many great coaches. To learn from everyone is going to help me out tremendously.”
That second quote touches on the reason why, even without as much star power as normal, the chance to play for Team USA is still a really valuable one for Kuzma. Nowhere else at this time of the summer is he going to be around this caliber of coaching on a daily basis, with the opportunity to work in as high-level of scrimmages — and if he makes the team, exhibition games — as he will get the chance to at this time of year.
In conjunction, those two factors could help Kuzma hit the ground running to start the season.
Kuzma will also be thrust into a different role than he’s ever had in his career, as he looks set to alternate between acting as a supplementary scorer alongside high-powered stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, or possibly coming off of the bench to provide scoring punch. Both roles will also require Kuzma to do other things besides scoring at a net-neutral level (at the very least), in as high-pressure of a situation as he’s ever existed in professionally.
Kuzma says he’s the rare type of player that thrives on the pressure of being a Laker, but will he be ready to do those little things, like playing defense and working as more of a playmaker? We can’t know for sure, but there is a lot more reason to be confident he can if he takes advantage of the opportunity to learn how to best do so from some of the best coaches in the world.
From the sound of things, Kuzma is embracing that opportunity, which is exactly what Lakers fans should be hoping for from his Team USA experience.