Last offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers traded almost every one of their young players to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans and free up cap space for a max-level free agent. The only remaining player from their once-heralded young core is Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma didn’t have the highest ceiling of the group, which included two former No. 2 overall picks in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram — the latter of whom made an All-Star appearance this season — but he was by far the most productive early on.
During his rookie campaign with the Lakers, Kuzma averaged 16.1 points per game on 45% shooting from the field, including 36.6% shooting from behind the arc, which earned him a spot on the All-Rookie First Team. His shooting percentages regressed in his sophomore season, but he averaged 2.6 more points per game and looked like a natural fit alongside LeBron James.
This season, Kuzma’s averaged career-lows in both points per game (12.8) and field goal percentage (43.6%), but the Lakers are a better team than they were in the two previous seasons — like, by a lot. After finishing the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference, the Lakers went 12-3 in the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs, and they’re currently up 2-0 in their Finals series with the Miami Heat.
Suffice to say, Kuzma’s first-ever playoff run has been a successful one, and he’s enjoyed every second of it.
“It’s been super fun, especially for me,” Kuzma said on Friday. “I’m just trying to live in the moment. I’m trying to play possession by possession and come in with energy. Get stops. Guard guys. Just help my teammates. That’s all I can really ask for. I’m out there competing, and it’s been fun. Playing in the NBA Finals is a dream for me. I love it.”
But what if Kuzma did get traded last summer? How different would things have been for him?
“I could have been at home enjoying myself right now,” Kuzma said jokingly on Tuesday. “That’s the biggest thing for us, to be here obviously. Like you said, big trades, having AD come here, and decide to put me in the mix to try to win a championship and be a part of a championship team, you know, I’m just very thankful for it.”
Kuzma hasn’t found a way to make an impact as of late, but his versatility on the defensive end was valuable to the Lakers against the Portland Trail Blazers, and in spurts against the Houston Rockets. If he can manage to have a “vintage Kuzma” game in the Finals, the Lakers will be on their way to lucky No. 17 in no time.