There is a good chance Lakers rookie forward Kyle Kuzma won’t make the 2018 NBA All-Star game when it takes place in Los Angeles in February. In fact, it’s probably more likely than not that Kuzma doesn’t see his name called amongst the participants.
But even though he might miss the cut if only judged on the merits of his numbers amidst a crowded Western Conference field, given his standout rookie season and previous precedent when the game has come to L.A., Kuzma deserves to participate.
Kuzma’s play alone is nearly enough to get him into the exhibition, which is probably the biggest plus on his resume. The 27th overall pick from this year’s draft leads the Lakers in scoring with 18.1 points per game, cashing a team-high 41.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
And, consider the team’s offense is never worse than when he sits, scoring a mere 96.9 points per 100 possessions when Kuzma is on the bench.
Basically, as a rookie, Kuzma turns the Lakers offense from being over two points per 100 possessions worse than the league-worst Chicago Bulls into a unit that scores 103.2 points per 100 possessions.
That’s the best rate among consistent rotation players and one which would rank 20th in the league if prorated over the whole season. A No. 20 ranking might not sound great, but it’s a lot better than the 28th-ranked Lakers have managed on average.
Those are all feathers in Kuzma’s cap, but probably not impactful enough to get him into the game by themselves given that the Lakers’ 11-21 record that leaves them outside the playoff race in a Western Conference as talent-laden as it has ever been.
But Kuzma is a rookie, and one that almost fell out of the first round at that. The NBA’s rules for All-Star spot consideration don’t necessarily say to factor this in, but Kuzma does deserve extra credit for it.
And there is prior precedent for shoehorning in a deserving first-year forward in the game’s host city despite their team’s terrible record. In fact, there is precedent for doing it right in Los Angeles, from when the game was last held in the city and Blake Griffin made the All-Star Game in 2011.
This isn’t to imply Griffin wasn’t a deserving candidate, but it’s almost impossible to say his status as a Clipper didn’t at the very least somewhat bump him into the exhibition, and Kuzma should get the same extra push.
His numbers are also on par with Griffin’s from during their rookie seasons per 36-minutes, even though Griffin had a full year to adjust to the NBA lifestyle and essentially redshirt with an injury before winning rookie of the year during his first official campaign:
We’re using per-36 because not only did Griffin play more minutes than Kuzma, playing 38 per game under Vinny Del Negro as opposed to Kuzma having to fight for ever single one of his 31.9 minutes, but Griffin was also given the green light to start from day one, starting all 82 games in his first season.
Kuzma has had to play with all sorts of different units, jumping in and out of the starting lineup, and he’s still managed to shoot more efficiently than Griffin on two-pointers while also spacing the floor out to 3-point range.
Griffin has the edge in rebounds and assists, but he also was allowed to use 27.3 percent of the Clippers’ possessions while on the floor. Compared to 22.1 percent for Kuzma, meaning that even if their minutes are equaled, Griffin was still given more opportunities to compile counting stats.
Plus, the Clippers were at the very least nearly as bad that season than the Lakers are now, finishing 32-50 and fourth in the Pacific Division. Thirty-two wins might be tough for the Lakers to reach, but they’re playing in a stronger conference than the Clippers were.
It’s also inarguable that Kuzma has done everything that could be reasonably expected for a rookie to contibute to the Lakers’ efforts, and shouldn’t be penalized for the failings of his teammates. Even if his at-times inattentive defense hasn’t always helped the team on that end.
Finally, the All-Star Game is about having fun, and it would undoubtedly be more fun to watch Kuzma get his shot to go up against the best players in the league than it would be to see some Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers or Denver Nuggets player get 12 minutes of relatively anonymous run.
Kuzma is nearly good enough to make the All-Star Game. In a lot of years, his play alone, if attached to a nameless, team-less player would be enough for him to get the nod. Even if it isn’t quite there this year, his status as the most-deserving Laker should push him over the finish line.
As Kuzma said, the 3-point contest would be a “cool” consolation prize, but with the game in L.A., Kuzma should get his shot to compete on all three nights of the exhibition, from the Rising Stars Challenge to the actual All-Star Game itself.
The NBA and its fans need to do the right thing and give Kuzma their #NBAVote.
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