Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma recorded a game high of 35-point performance to go along with six rebounds as he earned MVP in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kuzma led Team USA to a 161-144 victory over Team World snapping a two-game losing streak.
“Last year, I didn’t really play that hard,” said the second-year Lakers forward. “This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning, and, two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”
Along with bragging rights, the stakes for the Rising Stars Challenge was a $25,000 bonus awarded to each member of the winning team. Kuzma was determined to take home that prize.
“I think it was the second timeout, and I broke the huddle by saying, ‘Bonus-one-two-three.’ So there you go,” recalled Kuzma, who emerged as the MVP frontrunner out the gate with fourteen points in the first quarter.
“[Kuzma] was doing what he’s really good at, and that’s shooting the ball and scoring the ball,” said Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, who finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. “I mean, that’s what he does, so he definitely showed out tonight and put on a show.”
The Lakers No. 27 draft pick in 2017 attempted the most field goals in the game with 27 including 10 three-pointers on his way to his game-high 35 points. It was the exact style Kuzma likes to play, shooting with minimal defense.
“Last year [I] came onto the scene, and a lot of people didn’t know who I was and didn’t really have expectations, but when you have a successful season like I did my rookie year, you’re going to have a target on your back, and I knew that,” Kuzma stated.
The game featured the NBA’s top tier first and second-year players, including the first five picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. High flying dunks by John Collins and deep outside shooting and ankle-breaking crossovers by Young made for an entertaining evening for fans.
Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons led Team World with 28 points on 14-for-17 shooting. While Team USA’s Jayson Tatum, of the Boston Celtics, finished in close second to Kuzma scoring 30 points. To close out night one of the official All-Star weekend festivities, fans voted Kuzma the MVP. As it was being announced, “Kuz!” chants broke out around the Spectrum Center.