Over the span of a year, Flint, MI native Kyle Kuzma has become a household name for Lakers fans.
A young man who quietly came into the NBA, made noise throughout his rookie season. His shot selection and accuracy garnered the affection of Lakers fans long before 2017-18 NBA season started.
The Lakers rookie forward Kyle Kuzma aided to the upward momentum of the Lakers, helping them achieve over 30 wins in a season for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.
“It means a lot,” Kuzma said about the season wins. “I think one thing it kind of means is the rebuilding and the growth of the team is happening.”
The Utah Runnin’ Utes product scribbled over his 50-point performance during the Laker’s Summer League championship run by averaging 18.2 points and shooting at 49 percent in field goals in November. His efforts earned him Rookie of the Month.
His clutch perimeter shooting is one of his most recently learned skills. Kuzma only landed 51 three-pointers with the Utah Runnin’ Utes but broke the Lakers rookie record for threes with 159 shots.
“I really developed it over this past summer,” he said. “I got here and really needed to focus on that just because that was one of my weaknesses and I really just tried to shoot as many shots as I could.”
Kuzma expanded his shot selection to include the hook shot, a nod to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Sky Hook. He unleashed the hook against LaMarcus Aldridge in an overtime victory against the Spurs. For the fourth time, Kuzma scored at least 30 points in one game.
“It’s fun watching him compete at that level when he gets in that area,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said after that contest.
The versatile forward noted how head coach Luke Walton brings out the best in him by giving him a level of autonomy on court.
“He’s one of the coaches I’ve had really in my life let me be myself, play my game and play the way I would if I had no coach,” Kuzma said. “He brings out so much confidence in me, he has a lot of confidence in me.”
November was when Kuzma had his first 30-point NBA game and he blew past that benchmark a month later with a 38-point performance against the top-ranked Houston Rockets. Kuzma shot at 70 percent from the free throw line, the field, and from the three-point line in the contest.
Not only was it a career-high for Kuzma, but it was the highest score any Lakers player made this season.
Notable athletes began taking notice, WNBA champion Candace Parker expressed her admiration on Twitter. Showtime Lakers player James Worthy called him the “Kevin Durant Prototype.” Lakers icon Kobe Bryant also invited him to dinner and sent his well wishes.
“To be recognized and have that type of people say things about me in a positive way is really special,” Kuzma said. “It means a lot … just because [of]the simple fact that they’re like my peers.”
Other highlights of his budding NBA career included scoring 20 points in the Rising Stars game and meeting one of his childhood heroes: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“That was one of the best moments of my life simply because growing up that was my idol,” Kuzma said. “I used to jump off dressers and make fake belts because of The Rock.”
Although he was not in New York for the 2017 NBA Draft, he treated gamedays like Draft night with his fashionable outfits. His ensembles, at times, gained criticism from teammates.
The fame and accolades that Kuzma has amassed within the past year came from him being a studious and diligent athlete. He inherited his athleticism and work ethic from his mother, Karri, who did discus and shot put during her high school and college years.
“She was always talking about working as hard as possible and visualization,” Kuzma said. “She always told me from a young age to visualize it, think about it, and see it before it happens.”