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With a buzzer beating 3-pointer against the Denver Nuggets, Kyle Kuzma exploded into the headlines. While many Lakers fans may recognise the name, other NBA fans may be left wondering who he is. Join us to find out more about this young player that was able to snatch the win right out from under the Nuggets’ nose.

Who is Kyle Kuzma

Kyle Alexander Kuzma was born and raised in the town of Flint, a city in Michigan that is infamous for its poisonous tap water, as well as being one of the most dangerous cities in the US. Kuzma himself reflected on this, describing Flint as a “really violent place”, and a place that “there’s a lot of temptation to get into the streets”.

However, Kuzma managed to avoid this path in life thanks to his love of basketball. He first began playing when his parents put a toy basketball rim in their living room. Kyle, who was only two at the time, has been in love with the game ever since, and as he grew older, basketball became a safe haven that he could turn to whenever he needed it.

“It’s something that I’ve always gravitated towards whenever I was down and out or whenever negative things were around my life. Basketball really kept me grounded through those trying times.”  

Kuzma spent some of his school years at Swartz Creek Community Schools, before transferring to Bentley High School. It was at this school where he began to stand out at basketball, averaging 17.9 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.4 blocks per game.

Kyle knew basketball could provide him with opportunities and began sending tapes of his shooting to prep schools. The head coach of Rise Academy, Vin Sparacio, saw the potential in the young man and reached out to him. It was not like after beginning his high school career as a senior at Rise Academy that Kuzma began to average 22 points and 7 rebounds per game. 

After graduating from high school in 2012, the young basketball player took the next step by enrolling at the University of Utah. He continued to improve, and in 2017 he joined the NBA draft. Unlike many other players, Kuzma had enough credits to complete his degree, so even though he left a year early, he still graduated with a degree in sociology.

Kyle Kuzma joins the LA Lakers

Even though he was originally drafted by the Brooklyn Nets, Kuzma soon found himself on the LA Lakers thanks to a draft-day trade. 

He then went on to deliver a noteworthy performance during the 2017 NBA Summer League, and went on to be awarded the Summer League Championship MVP with 30 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

It seems the young rookie was on a roll as he continued to impress during his first starting game against the Brooklyn Nets with 21 points and 13 rebounds. In a game against the Phoenix Suns, he managed to deliver another impressive 30 points and 10 rebounds. Kuzma continued to perform very well, and received a number of awards during his rookie season.

The 2018-19 season may not have ended with Kyle receiving as many awards, but his performance continued to improve. He ended the season on 18.7 points per game, an increase from the 16.1 points he scored the previous season.

Is Kuzma really a ray of hope for the Lakers starting lineup?

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Kuzma has undoubtedly received a lot of praise for his game clinching 3 pointer against the Nuggets, with none other than LeBron James stating:

“I mean in order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player,” James told reporters after Monday night’s win. “And if I’m struggling or AD is struggling, he has to be our second-best player. We aren’t going to win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”

Analyst Richard Jefferson also believes that Kuzma is the most important player on their team. In an interview with ESPN, Jefferson said:

“We know what to expect from LeBron. We have expectations for AD (Anthony Davis) that we feel that he can fulfill, whether it’s on the defensive end of the offensive end. Kyle Kuzma is the unknown. If Kyle Kuzma plays in a 15 to 17 point range, 15 to 18 point range, throughout the postseason, the Lakers are the favorites. 

If he’s somewhere between 14 and 12 points, in that range, then they’re going to struggle because LeBron James is 39 years old. Anthony Davis, they’re going to be physical and physical and physical, against them, and you need that third person. Danny Green has struggled. Dion Waiters. You start looking at the rest of their line. He’s the one guy that you look at that can be a consistent scorer and a consistent force for their team.” 

But can Kuzma live up to the expectations that’s been placed on his shoulders? 

The numbers don’t lie

At first glance, you might not think so. His points per game have taken a massive hit, dropping all the way from 18.7 last season to 12.8 this season. However, he’s only been spending 25 minutes on the court in each game recently. 

With this in mind, if you calculate how many points he scores per minute when he’s actually on the court, it’s an improvement from 1.77 points per minute to 1.95 points per minute. That’s because even though his overall field goal percentage is down, his 3 point field goal percentage is up.

If you look at some of his other stats, such as his free throw percentage, steals, and blocks, he’s either performing as well as he ever has, or close to it. Again, he’s achieving this even though he’s spending less time on the court.

Given time, Kyle Kuzma can help the Laker’s close the gap

At the end of the day, Kuzma has the potential to be the third strongest player on the team. However, with the likes of Anthony David and LeBron James on the team this season, it’s unlikely that he’ll get the time he needs on the starting lineup and the court to develop that talent.