Common thought held that Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma would be confined to playing power forward in the NBA, even when he showed the ability to capably defend wings and play on the perimeter during Las Vegas Summer League.
Kuzma has thus far been able to do the same during the regular season in the NBA, and his emergence as a capable candidate for minutes as the Lakers’ backup small forward has excised Luol Deng from the team’s rotation and led to stellar averages of 14.8 points and 6.5 rebounds on 52.2 percent shooting.
According to Kuzma, those perimeter skills shouldn’t be a surprise, because he’s been playing there a lot longer than people who had only watched him play in college might have thought, via Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:
“Utah helped me a lot. In high school, I was a point guard. I wasn’t 6’9″ at the time; I hadn’t hit a growth spurt. In prep school I played the 2 or 3 mostly, but I was almost always a guard. Once I got to Utah, I played the 4 and the 5. It completed my game in a sense. I already had a lot of guard stuff, but when I got there, I learned how to be a 4 and play like a big. And I wasn’t really a good defender my first two years of college, but eventually got better at that too.”
The rookie big won’t be a point forward anytime soon, but Kuzma has shown the ability to help grease the Lakers’ offense, as the team assists on 55.1 percent of its baskets with Kuzma on the floor compared to 54.5 percent when he’s off. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s somewhat notable when observing that Kuzma played more with the bench than starters like Lonzo Ball to begin the year.
Kuzma playing on both spots of the floor is probably what led to his diverse skill set for his size, with being the primary ballhandler throughout his high school days teaching him the hand-eye coordination and reflexes to capably work as a playmaker, while his time as a big man in college taught him the art of the cuts and off-ball movement he does so well.
Kuzma is also a quick decision maker, rapidly able to toggle from catching the ball into either driving to the basket or making a play for a teammate, something that doesn’t always click so quickly for rookies.
How much his time as a high school point guard is responsible for that is unknowable, but it is interesting to know that Kuzma has been working on his playmaking and ballhandling skills for a lot longer than some might have thought.
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