On Kyle Kuzma’s Summer Play

Darius Soriano —  July 17, 2017

With the 27th pick in the NBA draft, the Lakers selected Kyle Kuzma, PF out of Utah. The analysis at the time said the Utes big man had an intriguing mix of skill and smooth athleticism all in the body of a 6’10 dude. After the draft, in what has become typical Rob Pelinka fashion, the GM said that they were “doing backflips” that Kuzma was still there when the team made their selection. Meanwhile, fans were…well, I don’t know what, exactly.

Kuzma wasn’t exactly a well known college player to me. Maybe I’m not the best barometer of these things (I don’t watch much college ball), but I was fairly familiar with Josh Hart (who the Lakers took at pick #30) and was aware of several other prospects who were supposed to be selected in the range where Kuzma ended up going (fwiw, Kuzma was ranked #43 by Draft Express before the draft). Whenever I don’t know anything about something, I dive in and see what I can learn. What I saw from Kuzma was a player with some skill (I liked his passing), some good athletic ability (I liked the way he changed ends), a guy who showed some promise as a shooter, and someone who would compete defensively.

In other words, Kuzma checked a lot of boxes. I thought he might be someone who could develop over time, but someone who would have trouble cracking the rotation because of the dept the team already had a PF. Julius Randle and Larry Nance are established rotation players. Luol Deng will likely need minutes at PF if he’s going to get minutes at all. There’s even the hope that Ingram can moonlight some at PF in certain lineups. So, yeah. Kuzma was a nice pick, but “backflips” he was still on the board? For a guy who might not play?

Kuzma has been a revelation in Las Vegas, however. A rangy, skilled, PF who is handling the ball, making good passes, showing a nice shooting stroke and easiness as a long range bomber, and an assertiveness to get buckets that I did not know was there. Yes, it’s only summer league and the numbers he’s putting up must be put into that context with the appropriate caveats attached. But even if somethings do not translate to the regular season (I don’t expect him to make 45% of his 3’s as a rookie), there’s a lot of positives to take away from what he’s doing.

First, as noted, Kuzma’s just a wonderfully skilled player for his size. He has a nice handle, very good passing acumen, and shoots an easy looking shot with range beyond the NBA three point line. He also offers a switch-ability defensively which has, in Vegas at least, proven to be better than anticipated. He shows good feet when closing out then sliding with wings to avoid giving up the types of straight line drives which compromise a defense.

Possessing these specific tools in his bag offer a nice alternative to the other PF’s on the roster. While Randle has the handle and passing, his comfort as a shooter is no where near where Kuzma’s is now. Nance may be the better defender (especially when adding in his back line ability) and offer more athletic finishing around the rim, but he’s not the perimeter player Kuzma is in terms of handle nor shooting. As for Deng, he has the experience and understanding of team concepts on both ends, but Kuzma’s physical ability at this age can allow him to make up for that lack of experience.

What does this mean for the regular season? It’s hard to really know at such an early stage. As high as I am on Kuzma from these summer games, what happens in July doesn’t always materialize come November. Summer is a really small sample and the competition is lower. The types of athletes Kuzma sees now aren’t the ones he’ll see when facing rotation level NBA guys. They will get out to contest his shot better, slide with him on his drives, and offer more craft when defending him in space. Real NBA games are a step up in speed, smarts, and overall ability. Players who have not experienced it need time to adjust.

Further, it’s one thing to be slotted as a go-to guy on a summer league roster. It’s quite another to be a role player behind other, more established, veterans during the regular season. One of Kuzma’s strengths in Vegas has been his relentless attacking and his lack of hesitation as a shooter and shot creator. Is that how Walton would want him to play when slotted next to Randle or Lopez in the front court? In lineups next to Clarkson, Ingram, and KCP? Maybe it will be. But, if it’s not, some adjustments will be in order. Good thing is he has the varied skill and floor game to play that style, but it’s still a different one that what we’ve seen in Vegas.

All that said, I believe at some point this year (and maybe sooner than later), Kuzma will show he’s a reasonable option to play actual NBA minutes. And, when that happens, I’m interested in seeing how Luke Walton handles it.

Kuzma looks to be the type of player perfectly suited to play the style the Lakers will adopt under Walton and with the addition of Lonzo Ball to guide them. Fast paced, ball moving, shooting, switching defensively…this is Kuzma’s profile. This also aligns well with what Randle and Nance offer. Could Kuzma end up getting some real PF minutes while Nance and Randle moonlight more and more a C? If that does happen, will Zubac be the one who suffers from the minutes crunch?

In a way, these would be nice problems to have. Every coach wants more options in the rotation, not less. Still, though, when managing a young team full of guys who all want to play and show what they have as NBA talents, managing the locker room and getting the most out of every player becomes more difficult. That’s lessened with high character players — especially when playing in a system where teamwork and togetherness are structural pillars.

That’s a ways away, though. For now, Kuzma is just a great summer league story who looks like he could be one of the steals of the draft. And, for me, that’s enough. We’ll see how much of this carries over to the regular season. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hopeful and excited for the prospect of it all, though.


Darius Soriano

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to On Kyle Kuzma’s Summer Play

  1. I said it when they drafted him. He is a steal and you’ll all see it. He’s done more than i expected in summer league but specifically what he is doing does not surprise me. He is the best all around player on the summer league roster and he is able to showcase even more because pf Lonzo. However even with Ball not there he still plays well-even better actually. I think he takes over this game tonight and is named MVP. As for the regular season quite frankly id just make him Ingram’s backup. He understands how to use what he has obviously. And in small lineups can be anywhere from 2 to 5. Obviously he has a connection with Ball that alone should get him minutes alongside him

    12+

  2. The boy has mad game!!!

    1+

  3. I think he’d fit well on a 2nd unit with Clarkson, Zubac, Nance and one of the other guards.

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  4. Its hard to bring some minutes to that stacked PF spot. Maybe Randle/Nance could slide to C spot, Kuzma at 4 as we have seen some games last year. For now we have this kind of rotation.

    Ball-Clarkson
    KCP-Brewer-Hart
    Ingram-Deng
    Randle-Nance-Kuzma
    Lopez-Zubac

    Bryant and Caruso
    (Two way) will be on G-League

    Anybody else Im missing?

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    • There will still be a pg added, and you forgot P.J. Dozier. You probably should switch Deng and Kuzma, since everyone agrees that Deng is pretty good as a PF, but too slow to be a SF. Kuzma might be able to play any position from 1-5.

      1+

  5. I also didn`t know much about him before the draft,except that he was very hard worker putting in the hrs,even after games. After the draft I checked out his combine results,physical tests, and scrimmages and was impressed. He seems to be steadily improving his game,and I expect to see more improvement by the start of the season..This is just the type of player that SA drafts,develops,and then allows to shine in their system. He and Ball seem to be on the same wave length on the court and should get even better the more time they play together.

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  6. I think Kuzma sneaks in some minutes at the Three when the Lakers roll out their small* lineup with Ingram rolling down a position or two to either SG/PG:

    C: Randle
    PF: Nance
    SF: Kuzma
    SG: Ingram/KCP
    PG: Ball/Ingram

    * It should be noted that either way the back court is configured that this is will be a pretty big ‘small’ lineup.

    4+

  7. There are good and bad results from Lonzo’s infectious style.

    We all know the good, but has anyone noticed players who are unsuited to passing, trying to mimic Lonzo, and the resulting turnovers?

    I’m also not too keen on whether Randle and Clarkson, fit into the new Lonzo style, as both have tendencies, to make up their minds to shoot, no matter the defensive scheme against them.

    As for tonight’s game, I hope Caruso can handle the defensive pressure when bringing the ball up court, because last night a flaw was unveiled which could keep him in the G league side.

    And there, are my contributions to the dark side ;-}

    4+

  8. As for Kuzma, I believe he will turn out to be the steal of the draft.

    Raw as he is, he’s got more talent than both Randle or Nance combined, imo.

    If I were the front office, I’d be trying to trade either Randle or Nance, for a backup pg with a defensive and scoring skillset.

    8+

    • I thought Kuzma could put up some monster numbers but, I had no expectations of him being so consistent. So far he does look like another late 1st round pick steal for the Lakers. These kind of picks can really help move the needle to improve the team.

      0

  9. The player that Kuzma reminds me of, in all seriousness, is…Luol Deng. The younger version that played the 3, or 4 in small lineups. He will be instantly better than today’s Deng at the 3 and Brewer too against most lineups. I expect him to be second in the depth chart at the 3 behind BI. Unless he looks overmatched, he’s likely to get 15-20min per game starting in pre-season. He’s looking too talented to not explore accelerating his progress. If his performance holds up and he keeps shooting threes above 35%, he’ll get move up the depth chart at the 4, too.

    Unless Zubac finds his mojo this summer/fall, all backup center minutes are going to Nance, in a forward-dominant lineup. With Kuz at the 3, Deng will get a little play as JR/LNJ backup to showcase that he can still be a viable backup 4 and not just dead money. This is critical in what we’ll have to attach to him to move him. Three years dead money is unmovable short of pairing him with BI or LB in a trade, but two years as an overpriced but viable backup 4 could be acceptable for the right price (JR, 2020 unprotected) next June.

    Kuzma is going to be BI’s backup at the 3. I have no doubt he’ll get show-me minutes pretty immediately. What he makes of that will determine to what degree he becomes part of the rotation.

    Developing LB/BI/KK and moving salary are more important 2017 goals than wins. We will need to unload more big salaried players by Feb, some combination of JR, LD, JC. This will free more minutes for Kuz, and he must be made ready by then.

    To those who project BI as a 2 -stop it! I understand why it’s convenient on paper, but it ain’t happening. BI is our starting 3, who may see some minutes at the 1 and 4 out of necessity. He’s not a SG and he’s the team’s future so he gets his proper position and let scrubs fill in out of position at the 2 or wherever else. Just like with KD in his first year, he got some minutes at the 2, but that experiment did not continue into his second year. Ditto for BI. Luke projects him as the Lakers leading scorer in 2017-18, which means clear role/minutes/called plays/reps, not a guy filling in the wrong positions to smooth out roster imbalances.

    1+

  10. I happen to agree with Darius on this one. He has looked outstanding against SL and GL- competition. On the next level he wont be getting minutes or a lot of run, how does he handle that? Is he a practice player who is going to prove his worth in practice and earn himself a slot. Randle, Nance, Deng all have earned their time. Kyle has to show through hard work and practice he is the real deal. I really hope he does. I like the kid. I like his lateral ability defensively, he seems to have a high IQ and really works well with Lonzo. Right now he is playing against his peers. In October he goes against the men. Ill reserve judgement until i see him for the first half of the season. But if any of his game translates im excited and definitely a fan

    0

  11. Woohoo! Congrats to the SL team. Nice to win something!

    Safe to say this is the most interest I’ve ever had in a SL game and probably the first one I’ve watched beginning to end. That said, you have to start somewhere and here we are.

    Great game even without BI, Ball, Hart. Nice to see some of the lesser known guys step up. If they don’t stick here, have to believe some other clubs will pick them up.

    Can’t wait for preseason!

    0

  12. Even without immediate contributions from Hart and Bryant it’s safe to say that the Lakers nailed this draft. Kudos to Magic and Pelinka.

    Very much Looking forward to the regular season.

    8+

  13. Congratulations to the Summer League Champs with unexpected surge despite the absence of Ingram, hart, Kwaba, Dozier and finally Ball.

    Hopefully, Magic/Pelinka will reward Blue and Thomas by signing them to Vet Min before they are snatch by other teams. Not bad as role players in the preparation for 2018.

    Magic also said that he’s still looking for a Vet PG, once rumored was Rodney Stuckey. Has he recovered from previous injuries? Two veterans that could beef the Laker defense will be Tony Allen, though he is now 35 but can still play. Brandon Jennings, a SoCal native a volume shooter, is he willing to join Laker on a Mid level exception. Lastly, our PG last season, Tyler Ennis.is he the right PG who could guide Lonzo in NBA?

    Here is my line up with due recognition to the talents of Kuzma,.

    1 Ball/ Vet PG /Caruso
    2 KCP/ Clarkson/Brewer/Blue
    3 Ingram/DenglThomas
    4 Kuzma/Randle/Nance Jr.
    5 Lopez/Zubac

    1+

    • The Lakers don’t have that many spots. You forgot about Josh Hart. The Lakers already have 12 players. If they sign Thomas Bryant then that leaves two. One is for the backup PG and the other might be Blue/Ennis. Matt Thomas should get a two-way contract IMO. He’s a good shooter but he can work on his ball handling, passing and defense in the G-League.

      0

    • Stuckey has never really been a PG and Jennings was atrocious last season. I’d rather bring back Ennis.

      1+

    • @Old Timer

      If Randle does not bust out then that will be the starting lineup his job goes to Kuzma.
      Kuzma can do a couple better than Randle that this team needs…Shooting & Play D!
      If Randle does not have a “breakout” season his job goes to Kuzma and Randle gets traded.
      What seems to help is that Kuzma and Lonzo seem to click and he is heady guy.
      Is Larry K. still coaching up there in Utah?…Probably why this kid knows how to play the 4.

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  14. James Rajacich July 17, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    At the very least, he adds protection when Randle leaves the next year. If Magic gets his way with two max FA’s next summer, they can’t/won’t afford Randle. Kuzma falls in line financially. Btw, he’ll see minutes this year at the 3 and 4. Positionless basketball is the new wave of the NBA

    1+

  15. Assuming there is not some sudden strange drop-off or an injury, they are going to have to consider playing him as a rotation backup with solid minutes at BOTH forward positions, and he’s flexible enough to do it cuz he stretches floor with his shot, runs floor to fill lane on the break, and last couple of games, he has shown a freakin’ impressive post-up game … and his size, strength, speed and versatility means he can guard big power forwards and quicker small forwards. What is impressive is the combination of skills in his package. yes, he’ll need seasoning, like anyone else he’ll have trouble with the top forwards in terms of D, and they can’t bail on studs like Randle and Nance, but I think that older guys like Brewer and Deng may need to sit and mentor and push these guys in practice, while Kuzma and Nance in some combo become the regular backup forwards.

    1+

  16. I think Kuzma plays the majority of his minutes backing up Ingram at 3 this year. I don’t know why so many people are against him playing there, but with the current roster, that’s where he fits best.

    Everything I’ve heard from Magic, Rob, and Luke when discussing the roster, and specifically Kuzma, involves the concept of position-less basketball, so playing him at a position of need makes sense, unless you guys rather see Deng or Brewer getting those backup SF minutes.

    My dream lineup, just to see how it works, would be:

    C Randle
    PF Nance
    SF Kuzma
    SG Ingram
    PG Ball

    Please, tell me that wouldn’t be fun to watch… All those guys getting in transition and just running a super uptempo offense. I don’t even care if they play zero defense and give up a million points. I bet they’ll be able to steal a couple games in January and February from teams that just don’t have the energy to get up and down the court with these young guys.

    1+

    • That’s fun to watch on offense Adam, but as the season progresses there are some hard realities, you need Vets like Lopez to compete for length and rebounds. Brewer is also an important player and had a lot of exposure with NBA talents.

      I’m intrigued by the news that D’Wade might be offered a buy out by Bulls, is this the opportunity Magic is waiting for to invite him to the Lakers and mentor Lonzo? That would be a perfect scenario. D’Wade is now in his twilight years but he will be looking for a place where he is no longer the center fold but the tutor in the sidelines.

      0

      • Rick in Seattle July 18, 2017 at 9:27 am

        Wade is an experienced veteran to be sure. But he is a SG not a PG!

        1+

      • Wade only makes sense if it involves dumping Deng’s contract. Lakers just signed Pope to play SG.

        0

      • Old Timer, I agree on the importance of the vets. I wouldn’t want that lineup out there for the majority of the minutes, just as a 5-10 minute per game lineup that would be a change of pace when Lopez and KCP get some rest.

        0

  17. I think most of you guys are missing what is happening here.
    Barring some big drop off Kuzma will be getting some minutes this year.
    The question is whose minutes?

    Deng – Not a factor will be moved or stretched… sits the pine and mentors

    Randle – Make it or break it year. I really want to see this kid succeed. It is his fourth year
    in the league and it is time for him to step forward. He will be the most watched player on this roster… if he becomes a beast then the Lakers probably move Nance then let Kuzma soak up his minutes. If Randle does not progress big time then he will be part of a trade and Kuzma/Nance are our PF’s. Randle is being given a chance here … Lopez game actually fits well with Randle and hopefully the kid will get down on the block and wreck havoc from now on and quit trying to be a PG.

    Nance – If he stays Randle will be gone. If Randle stays then Nance is probably gone.

    2+

    • Rick in Seattle July 18, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      Let’s wait until training camp to see where they play Kuzma. It looks like he has the size and quickness to become the primary backup for Ingram at SF. There is little value in playing Brewer or Deng this season, except when injuries occur, because both will be gone (hopefully) next year. (envision lots of DNP/CD on their credits this season).

      But just as important, this is another developmental year. So, it makes sense to give as much playing time as possible to the young core while still winning a few games. We’ve barely seen anything of Hart and Dozier. And likely to see a lot more of Caruso, Thomas and Blue.

      I truly don’t think they have the pieces yet to reach the 8th seed, but that’s still a good goal.
      the newer young players. And we know Lonzo wants to set goals.

      Magic should not be in a rush to find a veteran PG.. We are still early in the off-season, and teams will be ‘adjusing’ their rosters all the way thru training camp. No reason yet to rush this decision.for players like Stuckly or Jennings.

      You know, I’m thinking that Magic & Pelinka may (surprisingly) ask Walton to play Deng extended minutes at the 4 early in the season—just to showcase him for a possible mid-season trade. It would make perfect sense. Those kinds of moves happen frequently in the NBA.
      Just like polishing up an old car–just before you sell it. .

      1+

  18. Darius – Was there a reason why my last posting was censored? The one I wrote about Kuzma being our backup 3 and BI not being a 2.

    0

  19. Robert Fisher July 18, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Since Kuzma needs time to get used to the NBA game, why not slot him next to Nance at the 3.
    As of right now before any more signings
    Starters: Ball, KCP, Ingram, Randle, Lopez
    2nd Unit: Clarkson, Hart, Kuzma, Nance, Zubac
    Reserves as of now – Brewer and Deng
    Caruso is signed to 2-way contract
    Bryant and Dozier are not signed except for maybe training camp
    Lakers have 12 on the main roster that leaves 3 openings

    0

  20. You can’t keep getting rid of high-character, good quality players. Nwaba and Tarik were the first two. Nance should not be moved. Randle needs a mentor. His problem is his size, he should be a devastating SF, but he doesn’t move well enough defensively. He’s too short to be a four, so he’s an enigma. He is not, and probably never will be, a MAX player. If he demands it, no matter how well he plays, package him and Deng for Russell….lol

    0

  21. You can’t keep getting rid of high-character, good quality players. Nwaba and Tarik were the first two. Nance should not be moved. Randle needs a mentor. His problem is his size, he should be a devastating SF, but he doesn’t move well enough defensively. He’s too short to be a four, so he’s an enigma. He is not, and probably never will be, a MAX player. If he demands it, no matter how well he plays, package him and Deng for Russell….lol

    0

  22. Am I not alone if I say that the will make the playoff next season. No explanation just a hunch.

    0