Should You Buy Into the Kyle Kuzma Hype?
Kyle Kuzma’s name has been all over the place this summer. The 27th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft has been rained with praise for his impressive appearances in this year’s Summer League and Preseason. The Kuzma hype train is full steam ahead right now and is quickly getting overcrowded with fans.
In the Summer League, the 22-year-old posted 21.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a night on 51% shooting from the field. These numbers powered the Lakers to the title, where he was awarded Finals MVP for his contributions. This performance had fans buzzing, but not going crazy.
It was when Kuzma carried his high level of play into the Preseason that people started to fully jump onto the bandwagon. The Utah alum scored 96 total points through five contests (19.2 average), which is by far the most for any player in the Preseason. The next closest, Aaron Gordon, was still 25 points behind him. Kuzma also did this while shooting 56.3% from the field.
Following this strong Preseason showing, the hype around this guy got to the point where, not just fans, but actual analysts and other sports figures threw out some big comparisons. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman stated that Kuzma is what the Lakers were hoping Brandon Ingram, their second overall selection in 2016, would be:
Looks to me that Kyle Kuzma is what they were hoping Brandon Ingram was…..🤔🤔🤔
I’ve also heard NBA commentators say this same thing.
Watching film today. Kyle Kuzma is the next Paul George but possibly better. Mark my words he's a rare talent and the LAKERS got a steal.🔐
— Lethal Shooter (@LethalShooter__) October 6, 2017
Wow. That’s a flattering comparison for a 22-year-old rookie who has yet to play a single minute in the league. Is this hype real, or are people merely jumping the gun due to a preseason illusion?
I first have to address Kuzma’s inflated Preseason numbers. Let’s not forget that this is the Preseason, people! Since when did we start carrying so much weight in a player’s Preseason performance? While it is undoubtedly encouraging to see his strong play, the effort and talent level are still multiple notches below real NBA action.
Also, Kuzma simply had a massive volume. Sure, he led the league in total scoring in the preseason – but he led in total minutes played, too. Do you know who else led the Preseason in scoring two years ago? Gerald Green. So maybe his high scoring isn’t saying too much after all. If you look at Preseason points per 36 minutes, Kuzma falls all the way to No. 44. In addition, as impressive as his shooting seemed, he only made eight of his 27 three-point attempts (29.6%). When you break it down like this, what Kuzma has achieved becomes a bit less impressive. So let’s not go crazy yet, guys.
That being said, we can still learn some things about Kuzma’s game from the Preseason. He presented his reliability and maturity for a rookie. Kuzma’s best strength right now is his knack for successfully scoring the ball from midrange and on the drive. He made 10 of his 12 attempts (83.3%) that were between five and nine feet of the hoop – this was the most of any player in this zone during the Preseason. He uses hook shots, floaters, push shots, and sharp footwork to get his shot up around the paint.
Take a look at Kuzma shooting a tough little floater over the reaching arms of Karl-Anthony Towns:
He also used that same shot later in the game to successfully knock down a shot over Gorgui Dieng.
Here, Kuzma attacks Towns and uses his hook shot to get it over the big man:
The very next play, Kuzma took it coast-to-coast, spun around Taj Gibson, and finished it off with another hook shot – this time with the other hand:
Kuzma uses a push shot here to score the mid-range basket:
A rookie rarely has these type of versatile shots in their toolbox before the season even starts. This shows that, regardless of whether or not he can turn into an All-Star caliber player, Kuzma has an extremely high floor. This means that the worst he will be in the NBA is a solid player who is smart, efficient, and reliable. With an arsenal like this, he may be the most NBA-ready players in the 2017 draft class – he’s definitely up there with Jayson Tatum as one of the most polished rookies entering the season.
Now to address the optimistic Paul-George comparisons. Honestly, it’s not awful. Both players have nearly identical physical profiles. They each stand at 6’9″, weight 220 pounds, and have a seven-foot wingspan. I mean, these guys practically have the exact same physique. On top of their profiles, George and Kuzma each are crafty when they drive to the hoop. You saw the moves that Kuzma can already do above, and George is equally gifted at adjusting to defenders and scoring off the dribble.
However, the three-point shooting and athleticism set George apart. Kuzma has shown flashes of both of these things, but George has had these skills from the get-go. Right now, he is much more explosive than the 22-year-old rookie. He has a quicker first step and acceleration that lets him do a lot on the court. Kuzma could potentially improve his explosiveness, but it will be tough to get it to the same level that Paul George is at.
Shooting is much more fixable, but Kuzma is currently lacking in that department. In George’s two seasons at Fresno State, he shot 39.6% from behind the arc while averaging 1.9 three-pointers. In three seasons with Utah, Kuzma shot 30.2% from deep and averaged slightly fewer makes (1.8). And as we mentioned earlier, Kuzma’s perimeter shooting wasn’t much better in the Preseason, where he shot 29.6%.
So yes, you can buy into the hype – but don’t go overboard. The dude is going to be a damn good player – especially for a 27th pick. He’s already virtually guarenteed to be a big-time steal for the Lakers. However, we don’t need to go and compare him to NBA All-Stars. At least not at this stage of his career (which he hasn’t even started yet!).
Follow Erik J Johnson on Twitter: @erikjohnson32
Photo via Flickr
Highlights of Kuzma via @dawkinsmta on Youtube