When Kyle Kuzma decided to keep his name in the NBA Draft, I thought he was crazy. I figured a second round pick was more than likely, and possibly a summer league run followed by a long career in Europe. Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew Kuzma had NBA talent, but I figured his underdeveloped talent would keep him out of the league, namely his perimeter shooting and ball handling ability, which is why I thought an extra year at Utah would make him a lock in the NBA. I am beyond happy to say I was wrong, since Kuz was drafted in the first round of the draft, and had a great summer league in Vegas. By the sounds of it, Kuz wowed the Lakers in the predraft process, including during his workout, and the Lakers traded to get him late in the first round.
Kuzma validated his pick to the Lakers with a great summer league, and showed a lot of improvement in his game. While at Utah, Kuzma had a hard time being consistent beyond the arc, by shooting only 32% from deep. Sure, inconsistent point guard play would factor into that kind of percentage. In his summer league performances, Kuz showed that the NBA three wouldn’t be too big of a deal for him, as he was consistent from deep in Vegas. In the final game, Kuzma shot 6-of-10 from downtown, and was a threat all summer long. For the entire Vegas Summer League, Kuzma averaged just short of 22 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, all very impressive numbers for the flexible forward, now for the Lakers. It helped Kuz quite a bit that Brandon Ingram didn’t play most of summer league because of a tight hamstring, and he took full advantage. Kuzma was also named the Vegas Summer League Championship Game MVP, while teammate Lonzo Ball was the MVP of the whole tournament.
The question a lot of Utah fans has is, where was this Kuzma during his final season on the Hill? I think there are a lot of factors that go into it, but the Utah Jazz beat writer Tony Jones I think nailed it on Twitter. The NBA is simply a different type of game than the college game. The game is more wide open in the NBA, so you have a lot more space to play with, and with Kuzma’s athleticism that is an advantage. It also helped him a lot to have a point guard, like Ball, that could create unlike any guard that he’s played with, which helped him hit the spot up three a lot more. The Lakers, with Ball at the helm, was also a lot more up tempo, and Kuzma’s ability to run the floor was a major asset to his success.
The question now for Kuzma is how does he evolve when the bullets are live, and when he has NBA veterans on the other team? The space will shrink faster, and everyone else will be just as big and fast. Kuzma proved that his decision was the right one, but can he now take the next step and become a reliable rotational player for the Lakers? I think he can, but it will take some time, and his work ethic will pay off big for him.