Being drafted with the no. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kyle Kuzma flew under the radar of most teams, but the Michigan native made an impression in workouts and in person with Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Rob Pelinka, the front office duo that decided to adorn the 22-year-old with an LA Lakers' jersey.
Kuzma wears the no. 0, which is probably about how much most people in LA knew about the former University of Utah Ute before he stormed through the NBA Summer League en route to the Summer League Final MVP.
Even Lonzo Ball, who played against Kuzma in college, didn't seem to remember anything special about the athletic 6-foot, 9-inch forward in college. With Ball sitting out three of the five preseason games with a mildly sprained ankle, the focus has been back on the court, and on the court, Kuzma is king.
In his first five preseason games, Kuzma has scored at least 15 points in each contest and leads the Lakers in scoring at 19.2 points per game on 56.2 percent shooting from the field. For the past couple years, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. have split minutes at power forward, but with the emergence of Kuzma, that position grows immensely more complicated for Lakers coach Luke Walton.
Kuzma's transition from college to the NBA has been so impressive that one has to truly consider which of Kuzma at 22 years, Randle at 22 years or Nance at age 24 has a brighter future in purple and gold. Yes, Kuzma has been that good since hearing his name called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Randle is a double-double machine, but he is not a consistent scorer. The former University of Kentucky lottery pick has been tirelessly working on developing a three-point shot and has also rebuilt his shooting form since coming into the league, but during the current preseason, Kuzma has out-shot Randle from beyond the arc despite the rookie failing to hit 30 percent from distance.
In truth, Kuzma has already displayed more three-point shooting ability than Nance and Randle, and the rookie has only been on the team for a few months. Nance may have worked on his shooting range over the summer, but through five preseason games, the Ohio native has only attempted one three-point shot.
Randle is averaging two three-point attempts per game, but he has only made two of his 10 long range attempts.
Of course, Nance is a better defender than Kuzma, and both Randle and Nance are better rebounders than the Michigan kid, but Kuzma is undoubtedly the best scorer of the three, and the level of consistency he has displayed in putting the ball through the hoop has been impressive.
In truth, Kuzma has out performed second-year forward Brandon Ingram, who was expected to take a jump on the offensive end of the court. In four preseason appearances, Ingram has hit the double-digit mark in scoring only twice, and the Georgia native's highest tally is 13 points during the exhibition season. As a reminder, Kuzma scored at least 15 points in all five of his preseason games thus far.
Coming off the bench, the Lakers are looking for Jordan Clarkson to be their sixth man and provide a scoring punch. While Kuzma has assumed that role to a great extent, Clarkson has still managed to score in double figures in four of the five games to average 12.4 points per contest in only 19.6 minutes on the court.
Though Clarkson has not been able to find his three-point shooting touch, the former Mizzou guard, finally, seems to be earning regular trips to the charity stripe. In limited minutes, the 25-year-old has earned 20 free throws over the five contests and made 18 of those unguarded opportunities.
Kuzma and Clarkson together could effectively provide the second unit with two scorers capable of keeping up with most reserve groups in the NBA. In addition, Alex Caruso, who is on a two-way contract with the team, has looked like the most NBA ready point guard on the roster.
Lonzo Ball obviously has the starting spot, but Ball did not look at his best prior to the ankle injury, and Caruso has outplayed Tyler Ennis on most fronts since Ball took on a cheer-leading role on the bench. Caruso looks like he will have a role to play for the LA Lakers, not just the South Bay Lakers, as he joins Kuzma as a Summer League standout carrying momentum forward into the preseason and beyond.
Entering training camp, the discussions revolved around whether Kuzma could crack the rotation. After five games of preseason, the question is not whether or not Kuzma will play but how much he will play.
At this stage, Kuzma seemingly has to play regular minutes when the games count, so Walton will need to open up his calculus books to derive a formula to find the rookie minutes because, well, he deserves them.