On Kyle Kuzma’s Breakout Summer League Game

Darius Soriano —  July 10, 2017 — 35 Comments

What you find out at NBA summer league is almost always dependent on what it is you’re looking for. It is the nature of this environment where, coming off the heels of the draft, most people have preconceived notions about who or what a prospect is and then go about confirming those when seeing them on the Thomas and Mack hardwood.

Go back a couple of years. You think D’Angelo Russell is going to be a bust? Well, that’s confirmed via a poor shooting night and the lack of drives and finishes at the rim. You think Jahlil Okafor is going to be a stud big man? Well, that’s confirmed with him beasting dudes in the post and showing some deft face up moves from 18 feet an in. Even if those things aren’t really true in the aggregate, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s pretty easy to get there through some surface observations.

Thing is, finding what you’re looking for isn’t the point of summer league. In fact, it’s hard to really decipher what the point is at all.

As I wrote in my preview for the Lakers excursion to Vegas, summer league is weird. It’s guys who have never played together before, with differing goals, all thrown together with limited practice time and asked to win games. You think Lonzo Ball and Vander Blue are there for the same reasons? What about Brandon Ingram and Thomas Bryant? Or Travis Wear and Josh Hart? Nah, man. These guys all play for the Lakers, but what they’re really playing for can vary from a training camp invite to a spot in the rotation to a guaranteed contract with the Lakers (or another team) to getting that W when the buzzer sounds.

I’ve gotten off track some, but I think this is important. I fully believe that, if anything, summer league is about looking for hints that a guy can actually play at the NBA level. I think we all have our definition of this, but mine is pretty straight forward. All of these guys have talent to be in the league and all of them have weaknesses which could keep them from thriving. Stressing too much on either end of the spectrum is doing everyone (including us as people providing thoughts and analysis) a disservice.

For me, then, I’m just looking at some simple decision making stuff, how skill level and ability translate into game action, and whether there is, at any point, a time where a guy just looks the part of an actual NBA rotation player. Like Larry Flynt once said about a different topic, “you know it when you see it” and after years of watching this league, I think that applies to basketball too.

This brings me to Kyle Kuzma, who exploded for 31 points in Saturday’s loss to the Celtics. Kuzma had his entire offensive repertoire going and it resulted in quite the highlight reel.

I had no clue what to expect from Kuzma after he was drafted. I read the scouting reports, watched some tape, and saw a player who fit into the mold of a versatile forward on both ends of the floor. Rob Pelinka later confirmed this is exactly what they were looking for and what led to their excitement when he was still on the board at #27. They think he can be a two way player, with feel, who has enough versatility and switch-ability to play in most any lineup.

I’m not going to pretend a big scoring outburst in a summer league game confirms any of that, but I will say, I think Kuzma can play. He shoots an “easy” ball, is showing a comfort level shooting beyond the NBA arc, is a smooth and fluid athlete, and is impressing me when he locks in defensively — especially on the wing. Can he be a bit soft protecting the basket? Yes. Did he get a bit shot happy vs. the C’s? You bet. But, again, every player has flaws and some things are just a part of summer league being weird. What I’m looking for are hints this dude has it — or at least my definition of it.

And through two games, he’s showing he does. His skill set just fits into today’s NBA well. How much that will matter come regular season time when he’s battling for minutes with Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr for PF minutes, I’ve no clue. But, I do think he’ll be able to play actual NBA minutes next year. Even after only two games, I’ve seen enough to make me believe it. Which, for a player who was taken where he was in the draft, is saying something.


Darius Soriano

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35 responses to On Kyle Kuzma’s Breakout Summer League Game

  1. As I commented in the previous post, Kuzma might turn out to be the most overlooked player in a draft in the past decade.

    Yes, Lonzo set him up to look good, yet he had to have the tools to complete the plays.

    Kuzma has demonstrated two way juggernaut skill set, size athleticism, a powerful defensive presence, a polished shot, and will to win.

    I’m very impressed with the scouting department of this new crew !

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    • To be fair, the scouting department is pretty much the same as Mitch & Jim’s (Jesse Buss, Ryan West, etc). I think Maginka added a couple international scouts but yeah, this is the same crew that found Clarkson, Zubac, and Nance.

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  2. What I like about the kids talent is the concern it should be causing Randle/Nance/Deng- These guys should really be pushing themselves at a obsessive level to fight forPT competition is what this frontcourt needs. I bet that Nance is in the gym now shooting until his arms fall off and i hope that Randle is getting the jumper down.Our frontcourt players have to produce at a higher level ,every nite.If this kuzma kid gets better , our second unit comes up a notch.The lakers gym needs to be open 24/7.

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  3. Nice write up with a good way of looking at summer league performance.

    And for the record, it was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and not Larry Flynt, who made the “I know it when I see it” remark.

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  4. I am wondering if he can’t get time on the wing. He does seem to have the foot speed and quickness to keep up with most wings. He definitely has the skill set to play at the 3 more so than Nance or Randle. I remember when we had Bynum and Gasol, Odom would play at the three. Kuzma has the chance to have a better outside shot than LO and seems adept enough at passing and handling the ball on the perimeter. I am not going to equate the two, because LO was an elite rebounder and definitely had a better handle and finishing ability around the rim. But there are similarities. And stealing from your post, Kuzma’s skill-set fits in better with today’s NBA.

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  5. I think the lakers should start the following going into next season:

    Center – Lopez
    PF – Randle
    SF – Kuzma
    SG – Ingram
    PG – Ball

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  6. Kuzma has definitely proven that he’s talent enough to be a first round pick. Watching him defend against Tatum and other guys on the perimeter makes me think he might play most of his minutes as the backup 3 this year behind Ingram due to the minutes crunch at the 4 spot.

    How interesting would this lineup be:

    Randle
    Nance
    Kuzma
    Ingram
    Ball

    Of course defense will be the biggest concern, with no real rim protector, but you have multiple long bodies who can guard on the perimeter. Offensively, you have 5 guys who can grab a rebound, initiate the break, and make the right pass. In the half court, they all have to prove their shooting ability but I envision lots of plays using weak side action and back cuts for easy buckets at the rim.

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  7. hey darius: as the upcoming nba season progresses; it’s not who starts but who gets the minutes. It’s a tall order and it’s early, Kuzma shows the athleticism and skill to play either forward position. He can come off the bench to spell Ingram early and for Randle/Nance at the 4. What I find particularly interesting about him is how he positions himself between the basket and the nearest defender to give himself the greater chance of receiving a pass knowing in advance it’s coming his way. and so far, he’s a finisher.

    he’s young and he knows his game. that should work well for the lakers

    another nice write up Darius

    Go lakers

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  8. It’s quite funny to read the comments like “this guy need to practice his shooting till his hands fall off” or “our gym has to be opened 24/7” while I think that most of the commenters (and most of the people in general) don’t spend much time perfecting or even thinking about their job outside of their work shift. I think you should be trying to improve your qualities to better at your job, but certainly not spent all your time on it – “basketball is just a game” 🙂

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    • I’m glad I could make you laugh, It is unusual for average people to understand God given talent and it’s really not comparable for pro atheletes and the average working adults who run our great country,except for the individual that is obsessed with the desire for success or wealth. A 19 or 20 yr old kid who has a dream of making it in the pros will fail 99% of the time without total commitment, the difference between making a 10 year pro and the guys that get cut might be the kid in the gym 24/7,and most working people need 30 to 50 years to make it to retirement when a pro athelete can retire with one pay day contract for the rest of thier lives. I bet they work on shooting technique

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  9. Seems like we about to have a nice young forward rotation: Randle, Nance, Ingram, Kuzma. It may be low on quality as of now, but full of potential.
    And the whole team is very young and promising. I say play mostly the young guys and Lopez and use Deng and Brewer for veteran guidance and practice battles (maybe some 5-10 minutes here and there in case of an injury or foul trouble).
    Certainly an interesting season is ahead of us.

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  10. Rick in Seattle July 10, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    According to recent comments by Pelinka, this will NOT be a rebuilding year. If we are to take him at his word, one would presume that there is more roster help coming.

    With 9 contracts & four new draft picks, there’s not a lot of roster room left.

    However, Lakers roster appears most in need of a good veteran backup PG.
    (Hill would have been the perfect fit, but Ennis may become the fallback choice),

    And the Lakers could really use a young veteran starting SG. Signing KCP would clearly take care of this need. But, without KCP, they may be looking internally at Clarkson or Nwaba, or going outside to pick up someone like Affalo. If Allen is leaving Memphis, would he be a short term solution? Dont see much else on the horizon.

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    • I like the Afflalo mention. I’d be on board with a vet signing like that. Again, one year overpay sounds like the plan. It’s a mediocre bargaining chip. Afflalo can score and defend and his shooting would provide that spot up-kick out that LonZo looks for

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  11. When Kuzma was drafted there was a lot of attention paid to the logjam at the 4. But if the Lakers execute their plan for two max free agents, both Randle and Deng pretty much have to be gone. So that gives them a year to develop Kuzma. If he can also play the wing, great. But if he is an NBA player he will be getting minutes at the 4 in 18-19.

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    • Rick in Seattle July 10, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Tom, IMO, your observations are right on the money for a couple reasons:

      * Kuzma already appears to be.a potentially better scorer than Randle.
      * Kuzma appears capable of playing both forward positions–Randle cannot.
      * Deng is gone as soon as the FO can find an acceptable trade.
      * Randle’s game does not fit well with Waltons coaching style.
      * Randle is in the last year of his rookie contract & will need either a extension or new contract.

      For these and other reasons, I agree with you that Randle is not a long-term keeper for the Lakers, irregardless of the possible arrival of George or Lebron.

      By this time next year I think we will see both Randle & Deng on new teams, and there will be no logjam at PF. Nance is the keeper. He is our Robert Horry!

      And, I believe the same argument can be made for Clarkson. His $12 1/2 mil/yr for a reserve guard that doesn’t play defense, is a lot of money (particularly when we can find a comparable shooters like Lou Williams for $7mil),

      With the likely difficulty in trading Deng, Magic & Pelinka may want to use both Clarkson & Randle in trade as soon as a viable trade can be found–both to clear cap space for 2018 & to move their contracts for better players. Some may disagree, but those are the facts and they are indisputable!

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  12. He’s not shy about putting it up. Larry Nance, take note.

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  13. No Ball, Ingram, or Josh Hart tonight.

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  14. During the draft day, I was wondering why Kuzma was chosen over popular known players like: Bell, Anigbogu and SoCal native, Dorsey. Well, Kuzma and Hart proved their worth in the last two games. Though I still prefer Ike A than Bryant on the 42nd pick.
    On the starters except for Ball, they should start 2nd string first and compete for that position as the season progresses.
    1 Ball/FA pg/Ennis
    2 Clarkson/Hart/Nwaba
    3 Ingram/Kuzma/Brewer
    4 Randle/Jr/Deng
    5 Lopez/Zubac
    Rookies will undergo learning curve in playing intense games every other day. Let them first observe different players and reinforce second unit. Secondly, if Lakers plan to trade Randle or Clarkson before ASG, have to showcase their athleticism and skill set as starters. Thirdly, I think Clarky and Randle got the message and will stand up for the challenge on the job.
    On another subject, 4 Laker standouts not playing on 3rd SL game for safety reasons for the Lakers multi million dollar investment. Gone were the days when Wilt played with two hands on bandage or Willis Reed with one leg. That’s entertainment at its best the show must go on.

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    • Good post, Oldtimer. Yours is the most probable and realistic starting lineup so far.

      Regarding Kuzma, I saw him play twice this year (once when he visited UCLA, once when I was in Tucson on business and he played against the U of A). I was impressed both times with his two-way play. In college, he surely didn’t shoot the way he did last night but he just seemed very complete and equally dedicated to defense and offense. I was impressed then and I was even more impressed with him the other night against the Celtics. He seems to have worked on his game.

      But I must caution everyone against putting too much stock in summer league games. Summer League is a weird animal. Always has been. Players who look like world-beaters end up playing in the Philippines. High draft picks often disappoint during the Summer League. And players who score 29 points in an opening Summer League game often find themselves as the 12th man on their team in the regular season.

      Yes. Kuzma looked good. And Yes–I’m very hopeful for him. But he’s probably a long ways from being an NBA starter. My hope for him is that he’ll be a legitimate contributor this coming season. Also, with players like Kuzma, Josh Hart, Dave Nwaba, and Brewer the Lakers have the makings of a very solid defensive unit. This means that this could be a very different team next year..if they even get playing time.

      It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

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  15. Didn`t know much about him before the draft,but heard a comment on ESPN radio before the draft that Kuzma was hardest working college player he had ever come across. This is a very good sign that he will respond well to coaching and show continued improvement .

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  16. Summer League is like a college all star game, little practice, everyone trying their best. I like players who play with energy and hustle on defense.

    Looking beyond Ball, I like Bryant & Kuzma. I would like to see Hart play, but he’s been injured. What’s up with Vander Blue? He was the D League MVP, but I really don’t see him making the team?

    Looking forward to pre season now so we can get veteran players like Lopez, newbie like Ingram, Nwaba, and others out on the court competing against more NBA players than college. Then I’ll be able to be a bit more judgemental.

    Overall, I think the Lakers are improved over last year on defense and shooting…not saying much since they pretty much finished last, but so far, I see improvement.

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  17. The important question is…what will Kylel Kuzma’s nickname be? He will likely be a fan favorite, and his game and his unique name deserves a worthy nickname.

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  18. People want Kuzma to be a starter already? Slooow Doowwnn. I like what i see but let’s not forget the fact that this is Summer League.I dont know how many times we have seen guys that look pretty good in SL and do nothing in the regular season against real NBA competition.

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    • Exactly Fern. I love what I see so far from Kuzma, but an NBA starter he’s not, from one SL game. Unless he can shoot 5 of 10 a game from 3 in NBA games 🙂 Heck, we’ll pay a price for Lonzo being a rookie starter. But given how shallow we are at the 3, Kuz will likely get backup duty to B and an early crack into the rotation.

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  19. Let’s hope he is good because Paul George isn’t coming to the Lakers. He’s going to stay in OkC because they are a better team and can pay him more money. Now what.

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    • PG is coming to the Lakers. OKC will be a better team in 2017-18, but so what? First, neither team can beat the GSW as constructed. But the LAL have much more roster potential for PG’s contract horizon. I’d have been worried if he had gone to Boston or CLE. Second, it’s freaking LA, not OKC! He gets to be the now-face of the Lakers, whose fan base packs summer league arenas, whose worldwide fan base is second to none; he ain’t saying, “gosh I love this cow poke town because of RW, I wanna be here the rest of my life”, he’s coming to be the center of the buzz and flash of his home town. Possibly along with LBJ or RW, and a real chance against GSW. Third, the money is not less, only a year less and a bit more uncertainty; 4 years later at 32, PG will still be a max player, and will get a re-upping in the $40m/year range, effectively matching the original contract’s value when the 1st year of the next contract is accounted for. It might even benefit him greatly to re-up at 32 and not at 33.

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      • IN OKC, PG can play with an MVP (in Russell) and a solid young center (in Adams). If we look through our fans goggles we think Ingram is all NBA and that Randle and Lonzo are All Stars — but that’s not reality — that’s just hope. The simple fact is that the Lakers roster is not better than the Thunder’s.

        If you’re PG and you have 4 great years left in your career who would you bet on to compete? The Thunder or the Lakers?

        Magic/Pelinka better figure out how to develop a roster because they may not be in a position, next summer, to fill all their holes through free agency.

        0
        • PG already knows he’s playing with the MVP, and still didn’t commit to staying, just a will-see. Sure, if they beat the Warriors he might stay there. Both PG and Magic have made clear they expect two all-stars next season in Lakerland, presumably PG + 1. OKC does not have the room to add another, so that comparison is between RW and whomever the Lakers get. So, if you think Adams and the ragtag remaining OKC roster is better than LB+BI and the rest of the Lakers youth as the right foundation from 2018-2022, we’ll just agree to disagree.

          Westbrook has a massive extension in from of him from OKC and has not signed it. Unless he does, they are both in play, not just PG.

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      • Vasheed, thanks for linking to something that provides much-needed perspective and a dose of objectivity to the PG mania that afflicks so many of us.
        Glad to see PG is realistic enough to realize that he can’t go it alone in L.A.
        Is there a hint of a challenge to the Lakers FO in George’s wise words?

        1+
      • My take Vasheed, PG can’t say anything at this point since he is being paid by OKC. Like what he said in Indiana before the trade that he is a Pacer and will work hard to go deep in the playoffs with Pacers. It seems that brain works over the heart at this stage. He also said to his childhood friends that someday he would work here and establish a legacy in Antelope Valley. Let’s see what happens in 2018, if no PG, there are lot of stars coming out from their contract who will be available and can blend with our youth. Lakers has to prove first that they can reach the playoffs under stiff competition in the West.

        It appears KCP is interested with the Lakers offer, is it possible Magic is offering Rondo and KCP the whole enchilada and agents are trying to slice it without any matching offers out there.

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  20. Rick in Seattle July 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Around the NBA, there are teams with expiring contracts. Some teams may want to keep them for cap space at the end of the season. Other teams may prefer to move them more quickly to possibly expedite current roster moves.

    According to data from Basketball Insiders, here are most of the upcoming expiring contracts from the Eastern Conference: (Largest to smallest)

    Greg Monroe (Detroit) $17.88 mil,
    Trevor Booker (Brooklyn) $9.125 mil.
    Avery Bradley (Detroit) $8.8 mil
    Channing Frye (Cleveland) $7.42 mil
    Marco Belineli (Atlanta) $6.6 mil
    Spencer Hawes (Milwaukee) $6.02 mil.
    Jodie Meeks (Washington) $3.45 mil
    Michael Carter-Williams (CHA) $2.7 mil
    Tim Frazier (Washington) $2 mil
    Mike Scott (Washington) $1.47 mil

    Beginning in free agency, teams are often attempting to improve their rosters in preparation for the coming season. We know that most teams try to maximize cap space to the extent possible, so that new players can be added thru trade or free agency.

    Teams like Brooklyn have recently employed the tactic of taking on less desirable players in exchange for added compensation in the form of draft picks and/or other players. The Mozgov trade was one example of this.

    Teams like the Suns and Lakers, that are firmly in the rebuilding mode, have already considered this tactic and have employed it successfully. Any time a team in full rebuild mode has the available cap space and roster openings to take on less desirable contracts, it can be a win-win for both teams. Clearly, it’s not a tactic that a playoff-level team would generally consider.

    Depending upon the amount of additional compensation available, its just another option that rebuilding teams like the Lakers may want to continue employ, as they slowly construct their respective rosters….

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