On Monday in Indiana, the Los Angeles Lakers had a rookie that stood out as a player for the future but even more explicitly as a player for the present, i.e. the present style of the NBA.
While Lonzo Ball has his special qualities that fit with the modern game, the Lakers' other standout rookie, Kyle Kuzma, embodies the NBA's current floor spacing and three-point shooting obsession.
Kuzma racked up a game-high 27 points in Indiana, along with pulling down eight rebounds and also making a trio of three-pointers to perfectly illustrate why he is the Lakers' power forward of the future and a perfect fit for the modern NBA game.
Already, Kuzma is only the fourth Lakers' rookie to score 1,000 points and grab 400 or more rebounds. The Flint, Michigan native is in the elite company of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Two of those men have statues outside STAPLES Center, and the third is due to get his statue in early April.
Joining that elite company is a testament to how NBA ready the University of Utah Ute was upon his arrival in El Segundo. Earlier in the season, Lakers coach Luke Walton shared that Kuzma was drafted with the no. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft as a project that would likely play with the team's G-League affiliate a fair amount in his first season. Of course, that didn't happen because Kuzma was too good to send down to the South Bay Lakers.
After Kuzma stood out at Summer League and took home the MVP award for the NBA Summer League championship game, the Lakers realized that this kid was ready and provided shooting at a position where the team desperately needed it.
In the Summer League, Kuzma made a habit of knocking down three-pointers. In that championship game, the crowd favorite that draws shouts of "Kuuuuz" whenever he shoots the ball hit six of his first eight three-pointers and scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to, again, illustrate that he's a crafty scorer on the drive or with his hook shot, able to gobble up rebounds in the paint and make three-pointers at a level never before seen from the power forward position on day no. 1.
The NBA had never seen a forward so ready to play the modern style of the game, and that's not hyperbole.
With 12 games remaining in his rookie season, Kuzma has a tally of 1,059 points, 422 rebounds and 135 made three-pointers. No rookie in NBA history had scored 1,000 points, grabbed 400 rebounds and made 130 three-pointers until Kuzma reached those heights. Considering his performance on Monday and with 12 games remaining in his rookie season, Kuzma should add considerably to his already historic totals.
Since history loves round numbers, one should acknowledge that Kuzma isn't getting to 1,500 points. He would need to average 37.8 points for the remainder of the season. Though getting to 1,500 points is not impossible, the 1,000-point mark is good enough as the first qualifier when comparing future front court players to the 6-foot 9-inch forward's rookie season.
However, one cannot help but project out that Kuzma could easily reach 500 rebounds to set a higher marker for future rookies. If he averages 6.5 rebounds in the final dozen games, Kuzma would finish the season with 500 rebounds. Kuzma's season average is 6.2 rebounds, and he's averaging 8.6 rebounds for the month of March, so 500 rebounds is a realistic target that would add one more rung to Kuzma's rookie season.
Sitting on 135 three-pointers after Monday night, which is already the Lakers' rookie record, Kuzma needs only 15 three-pointers over his final 12 games to get to a nice round 150. Shooting 36.6 percent from distance for the season, Kuzma averages 2.0 makes on 5.4 attempts from three per game. At that rate, the central figure in the "Kuzmania" movement should have a handful of games left over by the time he crosses 150 and effectively shatters the Lakers' rookie record in the category.
Already, Kuzma has put up a combination of points, rebounds and three-pointers made that literally no other NBA rookie has touched. Competing with only himself, the 22-year-old's historic rookie season should go down as the first rookie season with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 150 made three-pointers.
Kuzma arrived in El Segundo as the most NBA ready rookie of a litter that hopes to provide a foundation for the franchise's future. Only, Kuzma's skills seem to make him the perfect NBA player for the present.