Los Angeles Lakers rookie forward Kyle Kuzma got off to a rough start in the team’s loss to the Phoenix Suns Friday night, going 0-6 in the first half as he looked to be en route to a forgettable night.
Then, something clicked at halftime for Kuzma, who made 11 of the next 17 attempts he fired and finished with a new career-high of 30 points to go with the 10 rebounds he snatched.
Kuzma’s explosion wasn’t just the highest-scoring game any rookie has put up this season, but also made him the first Lakers rookie since Magic Johnson to go for 30 and 10 in a game.
The display left Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton impressed.
“When we’re playing the right way and playing with energy and competing, he’s a matchup nightmare for teams,” Walton told reporters on Spectrum Sportsnet following the game.
Kuzma now ranks second on the Lakers in scoring with 15.5 points per game, trailing only Jordan Clarkson. His versatile array of moves that range from baby hooks to pull-up threes have made him as tough to cover as any rookie this season and left him looking like he would be in contention for Rookie of the Year in any season in which Ben Simmons did not exist.
Perhaps more encouraging than the numbers Kuzma is putting up is the fashion he’s doing so in. The rookie looks far more confident and collected than typical first-year players, a swagger that will serve him well as his game develops and allow him to push through adversity when he runs into it. It will also keep him from getting to high on himself when he does things like set back-to-back career highs in scoring in losses.
Eventually, the “nightmares” Kuzma causes will lead to sweet, post-win dreams for the Lakers as well. They didn’t get the result they wanted Friday, but if Kuzma continues to develop on the trajectory he’s currently on, the victories he and the team are seeking will follow.
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