- The Los Angeles Lakers-Brooklyn Nets trade in June landed the Lakers the 27th pick in the draft, which they used to take Kyle Kuzma.
- Kuzma has been a revelation, scoring 17 points and 6 rebounds per game, among the rookie leaders in both categories.
- By nailing a late-round pick, the Lakers added another intriguing piece to a talented young core.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ trade that cleared room for Lonzo Ball may have actually landed them a different Rookie of the Year.
In June, the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the draft. The Lakers had been targeting Ball with the second pick in the draft, and there was some positional overlap with Russell. The move also cleared future cap space.
However, perhaps the most valuable piece in the trade ended up being the 27th pick, which the Lakers used to take Kyle Kuzma.
Through 28 games, Kuzma is averaging 17 points per game on 50.7% shooting, 40.5% from three, with 6.6 rebounds per game. Kuzma’s latest offering was a 38-point, 7-rebound performance that helped the Lakers end the Rockets’ 14-game win streak.
Kuzma’s game boasts polish over flash, something few would expect of a 22-year-old taken with a late first-round pick out of Utah. When faced with a mismatch, he patiently executes it, as he did against Chris Paul on Wednesday.
He even has the polish to get his shot against stout defense.
And despite shooting just 30% from three-point range during college, he’s become a reliable three-point shooter, even making more difficult attempts than a standard catch-and-shoot.
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers scouted Kuzma throughout college and targeted him for his positional versatility, an increasing necessity in today’s NBA. They were surprised that Kuzma’s post game was so advanced, a skill he learned after summers of drilling from a coach in his local Flint, Michigan, according to Shelburne.
Kuzma also told Shelburne he re-worked his shot after college after watching all of his collegiate attempts and finding inconsistencies. He worked on his form and balance over the summer, part of the reason for his leap in three-point percentage.
He also chalks it up to experience, and he may be right, as his scoring and shooting have improved month by month in his rookie season.
“As many NBA games as you play, you definitely get better and better and better,” Kuzma told Business Insider before the Lakers played the New York Knicks on December 12. “I feel like my game, from Game 1 to Game 20-whatever is it, I’ve made a lot of improvements.”
Nailing late draft picks like Kuzma is a crucial part to team-building, and he now figures into the Lakers’ long-term plans as they move forward with a talented young core. It’s still unclear what the Lakers have in the core of Kuzma, Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle, but it’s a luxury to have young talent to build and develop, particularly if they plan to chase a star player to put in the middle of that core.