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SALT LAKE CITY — The decision to forego a senior season at the University of Utah was met with skepticism and doubts for forward Kyle Kuzma.
Could his skill set translate to the NBA model or did he need another year of refinement at the collegiate level? Many expressed the sentiment that another year would serve the Flint, Michigan, native well before seriously considering the NBA. However, Kuzma excelled at the NBA Combine and received enough positive feedback to keep his sights on the NBA.
Although the jury is still out, early results have been favorable for Kuzma in his early NBA experience thus far.
Monday night, the No. 27 pick in the NBA draft and former Ute standout led the Los Angeles Lakers to a Las Vegas Summer League championship victory behind a 30-point, 10-rebound performance, including a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter.
Kuzma, as a result, was named the finals MVP in his first NBA showcase. He has also been a shining — maybe surprising for some — example of how hard work and dedication to the game can translate to success.
In the seven games he played this summer in Las Vegas, Kuzma averaged 21.9 points on 51.4 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. That ranked him sixth overall in summer league competition in points averaged. Additionally, Kuzma shot 48.0 percent from the 3-point line, averaging 3.4 made 3-pointers a game.
Kuzma’s points per game average beat out every pick above him in the 2017 NBA draft except for the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell in all summer league competition — Las Vegas, Orlando and Utah. Mitchell, who was selected No. 13 overall, averaged 28.0 points per game in two games in Las Vegas and 15.3 points per game in three games in Utah Summer League.
Although the player competition is significantly different in summer league, Kuzma has already improved his game from college against arguably better athletes, most notably with his shot. In his junior season at Utah, Kuzma averaged 16.4 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting and 32.1 percent from behind the arc. He also averaged only 12.4 field goal attempts per game, yet was the team’s leading scorer.
In summer league, Kuzma took more shots — an average of 15.9 per game — and was more accurate with his shots, most notably from behind the 3-point line. He did that alongside Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the draft, who was unanimously named the summer league MVP and averaged 14.8 shots per game.
Ball averaged 16.3 points per game on 38.2 percent shooting, 7.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game in six games.
Despite Kuzma's summer league success, he will still have to fight for playing time this fall, but has the makings of a talented player for the Lakers. With Los Angeles, Kuzma can play the three or four, depending on whether the Lakers want to play small ball or stick with a larger lineup.
Kuzma told media in Las Vegas that he envisions himself being a multifaceted player without a fixed position.
“I wouldn’t call myself a four,” he told SBNation. “I would call myself a basketball player who can play multiple positions and can guard multiple positions, too.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka added that Kuzma is a “positionless basketball player” and is one that “plays with great energy and confidence.
“He’s just a tremendous talent,” Pelinka told SBNation. “We’re so proud of our scouting department for doing a great job of evaluating him.”
Regardless of the early success, Kuzma told media he continues to “play with a chip on my shoulder” and feels as though he’s “got to go out and prove something every night.”
Whether Kuzma can maintain this level of play in improved NBA competition is yet to be seen, but the future remains bright for the rookie and the Lakers, who likely struck gold with their draft selection out of Utah.