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Kyle Kuzma’s Summer League Performance is No Fluke

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Before the 2017 Summer League, the majority of casual NBA fans probably had not heard of Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ less notable rookie out of Utah. On a Lakers Summer League team headlined by Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, Kuzma was a near afterthought.

That is until he took the floor and displayed his impressive offensive arsenal that led the Lakers to a Summer League Championship.

I normally take Summer League stat lines like a grain of salt. It is all too easy to be allured by the verve and sparkle that Summer League offers. Lottery picks normally dazzle against the lower quality opponents–formulated by D-Leaguers and low minute role players. Every year, spectators over-analyze the play of their rookies, leading to lofty expectations that are rarely met once that rookie plays in an actual system against better competition.

Last year, Kris Dunn lit up summer league with an imposing 24 points and seven rebounds per game in the Las Vegas league. Wolves fans geared up for a prolific season for the Wolves prized rookie PG, hoping he would help lead them to playoff contention. But instead, Dunn provided lackluster performances, treacherous defense, and numerous turnovers. His 3.8 points per game during the regular season hardly lives up to that summer league stat line that once promised so much.

Having that said, summer league can still be indicative for success to come.  While analyzing play style in addition to stats, it is easy to see why Magic and the rest of the Lakers organization are in eager to see the 27th pick take the court. When I watched Kuzma, the first word that came to my mind was versatility, specifically on the offensive end. He can run the floor extremely well and uses his seven-foot wingspan to his advantage. He caught a number of passes from Lonzo that your average forward would not handle, and his fluidity allows him to catch the ball in stride and finish at the rim with ease.

Bleacher Report

In addition to catching dimes from Lonzo, Kuzma provided some flashy passing skills of his own. He showed great floor vision at Utah, and look for this passing ability to carry over to the next level as his length will allow him to reach angles that point guards can’t.

Not only this, but his ability to stretch the floor is unprecedented from someone taken late in the first round. He canned threes at a 48% mark after hitting them at only 32% in college. While the small sample size may be partially responsible for this rapid improvement, Kuzma has a smooth, confident stroke and proven range that will translate to sharpshooting capabilities at the next level.

And when he’s not shooting from deep, Kuzma uses his filthy spin move and convincing pump fake to get to the basket, where he finishes strong, often drawing fouls and imposing his will on defenders.

Despite his advantageous skill set, Kuzma is not without his flaws, which are for the most part quick fixes  and shouldn’t be a detriment to his development. He often makes flashy, highlight reel plays, but sometimes struggles to make the simple play, making poor decisions that result in turnovers or easy baskets for the other team. Additionally, his defensive intensity could use some work. In spite of his physical tools that should allow him to dominate, Kuzma needs to match his offensive effort on the defensive end to truly become an all-around player.

Don’t worry about Kuzma working out these weaknesses, as his confidence and grit is extraordinarily high for a rookie. Taken late in the first round, Kuzma has the underdog attitude that fuels a competitive fire night after night: “I have a chip on my shoulder,” Kuzma said. “I just have great confidence in myself. I feel like I’m the best player every time I step on the floor.” This “Mamba Mentality”, as Kobe calls it, is a rarity and hopefully allows Kuzma to excel at the next level.

CSN Philly

With a probable starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Brook Lopez, Kuzma likely won’t crack the starting lineup at any point in the season. Despite this, Kuzma could deliver equally impressive output off the bench alongside Jordan Clarkson, who is shaping up to once again be one of the best backup point guards in the league. Whether he’s playing alongside Lonzo or Clarkson, you can count on Kyle to get some decent minutes for an extremely young LA team with nothing to lose.

In addition to playing for an inexperienced team with minutes to spare, Kuzma’s versatility should allow him to earn more playing time.

As he puts it, “I wouldn’t call myself a four. I would call myself a basketball player who can play multiple positions and can guard multiple positions too.”

Kuzma was spot on about his play style. He is an unconventional PF who fits perfectly into the direction of position-less basketball that the NBA is trending towards. On a Lakers team that has searched for answers the last few years, Kuzma could be one of the unexpected contributors as LA looks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. With one of the most hyped rookie classes in recent history attempting to take the NBA by storm, look for Kuzma to make an equally significant impact to his counterparts taken 20 picks ahead of him.

 

 

 

About Logan Collien

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