The 27th overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, Kyle Kuzma, has been turning many heads. However, the young sensation still belongs on the bench for the Lakers.
19, 23, 21, 15, 18. That is how many points Lakers‘ rookie Kyle Kuzma has dropped in each of his five NBA Preseason games. Kuzma, who is averaging 19.2 points on 56.3% shooting, is picking up where he left off with his fantastic NBA Summer League performance.
In the Las Vegas Summer League, Kuzma averaged 21.9 points and 6.4 rebounds on 51.4% from the field. In the championship game, Kuzma dropped 30 points to lead the Lakers to the Summer League title, netting himself the Finals MVP in the process.
That strong play was surrounded with question marks, as the NBA Summer League is not known to be the most competitive. At the end of the day, only first and second-year players are allowed to play; many of which are NBA hopefuls.
However, Kuzma continues to build his stock as the sleeper of the year and even a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer did a great job in breaking down Kuzma’s strong play here.
All of this hype has lead to demands of Kuzma in the starting five. Even head coach Luke Walton is buying in on the hype, guaranteeing the team finds a way to keep Kuzma on the court. That will likely be in a split bench role at small and power forward. As much as some Laker fans may hate that idea, it is the right idea to begin the season.
Kuzma is playing incredible, don’t get me wrong. The rookie forward is already exceeding many expectations that were placed on him. In fact, even Lonzo Ball gave his take on Kuzma in college, and his not so awe-inspiring play.
Still, despite being much better than people were led to believe, Kuzma does still not belong in the starting five; at least yet. First and foremost, Kuzma has to get over his biggest problem to date – free throw shooting.
Despite shooting over 56% from the field, Kuzma’s free throw numbers are not where they should be. In five preseason games, the forward is shooting 72.7% from the charity stripe. Those numbers are not terrible, but they definitely can be better, especially with his great shooting percentage.
Kuzma shares the same free throw percentage as Wilson Chandler did last season. Chandler finished with the 94th best percentage in the league. While the sample size is small in the NBA, Kuzma did shoot only 63.3% from the foul line in college.
Kuzma is shooting at a better clip than Julius Randle is in the preseason, but until Kuzma can rise above the 63.3% he put up in college, he should avoid being in the starting five; for late game reasons. The last thing Los Angeles needs is missed field goals late.
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Outside of that, there is no real statistical evidence against Kuzma. Kuzma seems to be a better scorer than both Randle and Brandon Ingram. However, Randle is the much better rebounder and is more prone to average a double-double.
The main thing here is experience. Los Angeles has only seen Kuzma on the court when games did not count. While I personally hate to discount someone’s play because of that, it is the truth. Instead of rushing Kuzma, they need to give the time to Randle and Ingram, who they have devoted their efforts into with high draft picks.
Plus, if Kuzma does continue this great scoring, it will give the Lakers one of the best young benches in the league. With Larry Nance Jr as the primary back up power forward and Jordan Clarkson in the second unit, LA can be deadly. For the second season in a row, Los Angeles can lead the NBA in bench scoring.
At the end of the day, it is simple; Kuzma is not yet ready to get into the starting five. Give the kid a month or two to prove his worth before rushing into the starting lineup. Then, the Lakers can capitalize on a more experienced Kuzma and make a deal to create a path in the starting five.
If Los Angeles does that now, they may shoot themselves in the foot. Kuzma is yet to see action in the NBA regular season, and if the Lakers rush him, he could get figured out far too soon; thus halting his growth. As much as Laker fans want to see Kuzma start, patience must be key in LA.