Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has not suffered from a shortage of eyes on him since starting his NBA career. The rookie has burst onto the scene during his first season by averaging 14.9 points per game (which ranks third on the team) and shooting 50.3 percent from the field.
But Kuzma didn’t always pop off the screen in the same way he is now. During his time in college at Utah, Kuzma was hardly a household name, even among NBA scouting departments. Most mock drafts expected him to fall into the second round.
The Lakers have been able to find their fair share of gems in the later round of the draft in recent years, but the team didn’t want to let Kuzma fall that far, scooping him up with the No. 27 pick.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that their enthusiasm was kick-started by a scout that’s helped the organization find success for decades: Bill Bertka, who was enthralled by what he saw from Kuzma in the Pac-12 Conference tournament via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss recalls. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”
What he was looking at was a player who has gone on to become not just a solid pick for the late-first round, but one who looks primed to start (or at the very least play a role) for the Lakers for the next several years. Kuzma is a versatile, never-stationary force to be reckoned with both on and off the ball on offense, and has also shown the potential to defend multiple positions on defense.
His quick-twitch move and endless confidence to fire when ready have also made Kuzma a perfect partner for fellow-rookie Lonzo Ball, and the tandem look like they’ll be a problem for Lakers opponents for years to come.
Kuzma has said he felt he should’ve went “top-five” in the NBA Draft, and the Lakers should just be thankful Bertka is working for them instead of another team in that range, or Kuzma’s belief might’ve become a reality.
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