The the 2017 draft was packed full of incredible talent, making it nearly impossible for teams with a top 25 pick to go without finding value. (Unless you’re the Denver Nuggets who traded DOWN in the draft only to pass up Kyle Kuzma and Caleb Swanigan to pick Tyler Lydon who now plays in the G-league.) Sure, there were the Markelle Fultzs, and the Lonzo Balls, but beyond that there were some excellent choices to be had. The season is officially two months in, and from where I’m sitting the “top” pick of the draft is shaping up to be someone who was chosen well into the first round.
At 22 years old out of the University of Utah, Kuzma was selected by the Brooklyn Nets as the 27th overall pick in the 2017 draft, and through the trade that took D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn, Kuzma found himself going from one coast to the next suiting up for the Lakers. He made his debut at Summer League in Las Vegas, and everyone was quick to notice that he would be something special. Kuzma has made an immediate impact for the Lakers this season, and early on he’s already recorded a career high of 38 points–much more than many seasoned NBA veterans have ever achieved. I wonder how badly the Nets are kicking themselves right now?
Kuzma’s confidence and poise on the court is uncanny, and he regularly attacks established NBA superstars with no fear. Just this past week, Kuzma led the Lakers past the streaking Houston Rockets on his career night with 38 points snapping the Rockets’ 14-game winning streak. Kuzma’s performance that night marked only the third time since 1984 that a rookie has scored that many points in a game without producing a single turnover. If you know anything about NBA rookies you know that they are prone to incredibly high turnover rates in their first year. So far he’s averaging 17.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for the season, and many argue that he’s had much more of an impact than Ball who brings in just 9.6 points per game in comparison.
Ball’s father-led hype led the Lakers to pick him with the first of their two selections, but it’s Kuzma who is really their best rookie. Some have even said that Kuzma will have a significantly more successful career than Ball over the course of their careers in the NBA. Given that Kuzma is so effective as a rookie compared to Ball, it’s hard not to agree.
I am also going to go as far as saying that Kuzma is a strong candidate for rookie of the year, and ironically, Kuzma wasn’t even in the greenroom on draft night. He instead chose to host a private party so he could celebrate with his closest friends and family when his name was finally called. This is a far cry from the others who were chosen much earlier in the draft, but hype doesn’t mean a player is going to deliver.
Kuzma is valuable because he can score the ball, and his size allows him the ability to handle the physical style of play in the NBA. At 6’9″ and 220 lbs it’s clear that he commits time to the gym. It’s difficult for the young guns to put on weight, and they typically enter the NBA rail thin with a lot of work do with their team’s strength and conditioning coach. Kuzma’s size and scoring ability is comparable to that of a player who has been in the league several years so at just 22 years old, his upside is huge.
I just love to see guys like Kuzma emerge from the end of the first round and dominate the others who were chosen before them. As the Lakers evolve, Kuzma could very well become the next face of the franchise. In all honesty, I think Ball will end up getting traded around the league and he’ll have a moderately successful career. His dad did quite the job of selling his son’s skills, but they aren’t panning out to be as explosive as he made them out to be. Kuzma is here to stay, and I expect him to grow to be one of the league’s prominent superstars in short order.