Is Kyle Kuzma the Next Kobe?
Why Kyle Kuzma’s sweet shot, clutch confidence, and killer instinct give him a chance to be the next Kobe
Playing the Celtics always brings out the best in the Lakers and Tuesday night was no exception as Kyle Kuzma put on a performance that both elevated his ROY candidacy and made him the favorite to become the team’s next Kobe.
With adoring chants of ‘Kuz’ cascading down from the Staples Center crowd, Kuzma took over in the fourth quarter and almost single handedly carried the young Lakers to a stunning 108–107 upset of the Eastern Conference leading Boston Celtics. Kuzma scored 17 of his team leading 28 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6 of 7, including 3 of 3 from deep, and topped off the night with an magical behind-the-back pass to Larry Nance, Jr. for a critical dunk.
Willing the win, Kuzma’s game last night could have been a replay of any number of clutch performances against the Celtics by Kobe Bean Bryant. Kuzma’s sweet shot, clutch confidence, and killer instinct would have made Kobe proud. While all the talk before the game was the rookie matchup with the Celtics’ Jason Tatum, Kuz had bigger game in mind as he traded daggers and outdueled Boston’s vaunted closer Kyrie Irving in a wild west shootout.
Kuzma wasn’t interested in matching up with the rookie Tatum, whom the Celtics drafted #3. His goal from the beginning of the game was to outplay the best Celtics’ player on the floor, Kyrie Irving. Kuz doesn’t compare himself to other rookies. Instead, he compares himself and his game to the greats like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. It’s this Mamba mentality and intense desire to be a great NBA player that sets Kuzma apart and makes him so special.
When the season started, it was the Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram duo of 20-year olds that was expected to lead the Lakers back to NBA relevance. Lonzo was going to be the team’s facilitator and Brandon their go-to scorer. The emergence of 22-year old rookie Kyle Kuzma has changed that dynamic and given the Lakers a third young star who might not only be the best rookie on the team but also the perfect player to take the baton from Kobe Bryant.
Kobe obviously sees a lot of himself in Kuzma and has taken Kyle under his wing. While the Lakers front office has christened Brandon Ingram as the team’s future clutch closer and Lonzo Ball as the future face of the franchise, it was Kyle Kuzma that Kobe Bryant elected to take out to dinner and Kyle Kuzma whom he believes has the elite scorer’s skillset and mindset to earn the right to take over the reins as the Lakers’ go-to scorer and game closer.
Halfway through his rookie season, Kuzma has already been acknowledged as the “steal of the draft.” His ascent started in the Las Vegas Summer League where he was awarded MVP for his performance in the championship game, scoring 30 points and leading his team to victory without injured Lonzo Ball. He continued the stellar play through out pre-season and the first half of the regular season, proving his summer league performance was not a fluke.
After Tuesday night’s game, Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.2 points, 5.7 boards, and 1.9 assists in 30.0 minutes per game. He leads the Lakers in scoring and is shooting 45.2% from the field, 37.0% from deep, and 70.% from the line. Among rookies, Kuzma is 2nd in scoring and 5th in rebounding. He won NBA Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference in November. He was also selected as one of three Lakers chosen as Rising Stars for All-Star Weekend.
Kobe has always said the player who takes the baton from him as the Lakers’ next go-to scorer and closer will have to earn that right rather than having it being given to him. And that’s exactly what Kyle Kuzma is doing right now. He’s making a persuasive case that he will be the Lakers’ next Kobe Bryant.