Kuzmania in Los Angeles
Who ISN’T excited by Kuzmania right now?!
It’s not often an NBA rookie seemingly comes out of nowhere and puts in a string of huge offensive games, but that’s exactly what Kyle Kuzma has done over the last two weeks.
A 6’9” power-forward drafted out of Utah, Kuzma was selected with the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Dealt immediately from the Nets to the Lakers in a draft night trade, Kuzma has been a much better player than anyone had a right to expect. By most accounts, Kuzma was a marginal prospect (he’s even listed as such on 538.com’s CARMELO Player Projections). And these assessments were valid. As surely no team would have allowed him to slip that far in the draft if they could foresee the next few months. And while Kuzma is mobile for his size, he was not a particularly efficient scorer in college. He could get to the rim, but had trouble with both his three-point shooting and at the foul line (30% and 63%, respectively).
Flashes of higher potential were shown during the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, where Kuzma was a revelation. He averaged 22-6-3 with a block and steal per game. In the championship, he dropped 30 points and 10 boards to take home the game MVP in the Lakers’ victory. That success carried over into the start of the NBA regular season, where Kuzma won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for October/November.
So why am I particularly excited about Kuzma and his potential in dynasty leagues? Two thoughts come to mind:
- Consistent improvement – Remember those subpar shooting rates in college? Kuzma has actually done better at the NBA-level. He’s shooting 39% on three-pointers and 76% from the charity stripe. Not elite, but an improvement from the past and strong for a rookie baller. His per game averages in scoring (17.8), rebounding (6.8), and 3s (2.0) are top 5 among rookies. In 5 of his most recent 7 games, Kuzma poured in 20 or more points. He’s getting better as the season moves along.
- His feel for the game – This stands out to me, because it’s unlike most other players when they get to the NBA. Even the most talented rookies can get on the court and look confused and unsure. The pace of the game and the size of the opponents is something for which they can’t always prepare. But if you’ve watched Kuzma at all, you can see he just “gets it.” Rookie teammate Lonzo Ball is praised for his ability to see a few steps ahead on the court. Kuzma, though not as adept a passer, seems to share this characteristic. When Kuzma gets the ball, there is no hesitation. He either shoots, passes, or cuts to the rim. He’s decisive. And the majority of the time, he’s making the right read.
His game on offense is great so far. But there are some improvements yet to come on the defensive side, where Kuzma only averages 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks. However, it’s not unreasonable to believe these rates can reach closer to league-average NBA levels with more experience. Kuzma has shown increased defensive presence over his latest four games, with seven steals and two blocks in total.
In dynasty leagues, I would consider Kuzma a “buy,” but not a “strong buy.” While his game is solid and will continue to evolve, there are some other concerns. What will the Lakers team look like next year? Will LeBron and Paul George be joining the team? If Kuzma is still there, shots and minutes would surely be cut from current levels. If the Lakers do make that expected splash in free agency, Kuzma might get shipped out to another team. Escaping that anticipated logjam upfront would be welcome. But most likely would be on a team that plays at a much slower pace than the Lakers, limiting Kuzma’s counting stats. In the end, I would consider him around the 40 – 50 range for keepers in a 9-cat league. If he could up his defensive game a bit, I foresee him as another Rudy Gay; who was no fantasy slouch at his peak a few years ago.