Kyle Kuzma has impressed in a lot of ways in his first season playing under Luke Walton with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Most noticeably, the No. 27 pick has far exceeded his pre-draft expectations to lead the team in scoring (16.3 points per game) while playing both his natural position of power forward and out of position at small forward. Additionally, Kuzma has consistently adapted to his role whether he’s coming off of the bench or starting.
Kuzma’s scoring ranks second among rookies, and he’s also played the fourth-most minutes (2,383) of any player in the 2017 class, and the most of any Laker. Playing that much takes a toll on any player, much less one not accustomed to the level of play and grind of the NBA.
After Kuzma led the team in scoring with 30 points and played another team-high 43 minutes in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, Walton voiced his admiration for how Kuzma has fought through that heavy usage.
“He plays to exhaustion, and then most times plays through it. They have the saying, ‘Fatigue makes a coward of us all.’ And that’s true, except for a few special players. They know how to fight through that,” Walton said.
“I thought Kuz tonight did. There’s been some nights where he’ll tell me, ‘I need a break. I just need one.’ And I’ll get him out. Tonight I could tell he wasn’t going to ask to come out of that game. He was going to fight through it.”
Kuzma corroborated that sentiment. “Coming from a back-to-back it’s always tough. Let alone playing at Utah at that altitude and coming back here. I kind of just tried to tell myself from the jump that I’m not tired,” he said.
Kuzma has mostly found ways to be effective despite that fatigue, even while playing out of position at small forward and through a balky ankle. That’s an important switch for a player to learn to flip, and Kuzma has gotten a great test run at it during his rookie season.
The other positive of Kuzma still being able to stay effective while being used so much is that once he gets into NBA condition. Not to say he was poorly conditioned before, it’s just that nothing prepares players for the NBA in the way physically playing in the league does.
The game will slow down for him and he’ll only be able to be even more effective.
It’s the type of payoff that isn’t guaranteed and will take some patience, but could be a huge benefit for the Lakers to come out of their listless close to the season.