The Los Angeles Lakers have made a habit out of finding talent late in the NBA Draft, but Kyle Kuzma just may be their best late-round selection in recent memory. The rookie forward out of Utah has impressed since day one and has now stepped into the starting lineup thanks to an unfortunate injury to Larry Nance Jr.
With the modern NBA requiring versatility above all else, players with Kuzma’s skill set have become increasingly valuable. Defensively, he can switch in pick-and-roll situations while also possessing the ability to act as a spot-up-shooter, playmaker, and scorer on the offensive end. Despite his abilities, no one, including the Lakers, expected Kuzma to be quite this good this soon, as head coach Luke Walton admitted to Bill Oram of the Southern California News Group:
“Obviously,” Walton said, “he’s been a lot better than any of us anticipated.”
On a per-48 minute basis, Kuzma is leading all rookies in scoring, which is an impressive feat for a player not selected until the 27th pick of the draft. He plays under control and uses his body well to get to the basket, where Kuzma can finish with either hand thanks to a soft touch. He also has a deadly floater in the lane, and his three-point shot has proven to be better than what he showed at Utah. Walton acknowledged that Kuzma looked much better in pre-draft camps than he did in college:
“The two workouts we saw in Chicago were way better than any film we had on him,” Walton said.
Kuzma likely slipped in the draft because opposing teams were putting more stock in his college production than the impressive display he put on in camps, and also saw his age as a negative. At 22, he’s a few years older than the “one-and-done” rookies that often get drafted early due to their upside, which includes fellow-Laker Lonzo Ball, who just turned 20.
Kuzma appears to be bucking that trend and proving that sometimes players need a few extra years in college to truly reach their potential. Now that he’s earned it, Kuzma may just hang onto the starting power forward job permanently.
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