His second game came against San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who had coached Kuzma during Team USA basketball.
Kuzma looked as if he would play a role on the team that went to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, but a foot injury ended those plans and caused Kuzma to miss 2019 NBA training camp and the start of his third season. But even in that short period, Popovich was impressed with the 24-year-old.
It didn’t start off well for Kuzma as Popovich spoke on his early impressions of him. According to Kyle Goon of Orange County Register, Popovich compared Kuzma to one of the best Spurs he ever coached, but not in a good way:
“I didn’t know him at all and in all honesty watching him play now and then during the season I didn’t see a lot of rhyme and reason to what he was doing,” Popovich said. “He looked like a young Manu (Ginobili), he was running around, energetic and willing and working hard, but he had no idea what was going to happen.”
However, in the end, Kuzma won over Popovich and the Team USA coaching staff as he believed Kuzma was really turning the corner:
“I can tell you when he got hurt, it was a huge blow for our team, because we were all excited about him,” he said. “He had come a long way in just that short period of time that we had, in every facet of the game. Especially the mental part. He really caught on to the things we were talking to him about and I became a big fan. He was great.”
This is another sign of Kuzma’s work ethic and coachability. The former No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has always been eager to learn, listen, and then apply those things on the floor. It was apparent last season as Kuzma could be seen doing his best to improve his defense and passing.
It would have been a great experience for Kuzma to go to China and play in those high stakes games, but it says a lot about his potential that he stood out in this way to Popovich. The Spurs head coach has never been one to mince his words about anyone or anything so hopefully, this will be a good sign of what to expect from Kuzma.