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Las Vegas • The Los Angeles Lakers' summer league season was supposed to belong to Lonzo Ball, or Brandon Ingram, not Kyle Kuzma.
Ball and his family are the main attraction here. Lavar Ball is doing what he does, giving outrageous interviews, taking countless pictures with fans, promoting his brand and his son. On the floor, Lonzo has a dud of a debut balanced by Saturday's triple-double against the Boston Celtics.
Kuzma the unassuming power forward out of Utah was supposed to be an afterthought. In truth, he's been one of the headliners.
"Kyle is basically showing everyone what we knew he was capable of," fellow Los Angeles rookie Josh Hart said. "We've seen him in practice and in open gym. We know how skilled and talented he is. I guess everyone else is finding this out, too."
Kuzma's debut went well. The former Ute scored nine points off the bench against the Los Angeles Clippers. He shared time and touches, because the Lakers were featuring Ball and Ingram. Yet, he was hesitant in his first professional game, passing up shots when he shouldn't have, feeling his way out.
"I thought I was OK on Friday," Kuzma said. "But I wasn't completely myself. I knew that I needed to stop thinking out there and be more aggressive."
Saturday revealed a different Kuzma. Shooting early and often, he scored a game-high 31 points against the Celtics, dueling with heralded Boston rookie Jayson Tatum and getting the best of the matchup on several occasions.
Kuzma showed the package of offensive skills that enticed Lakers braintrust Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to spend a first round pick on him. He stretched the floor by making five 3-pointers. He drove to the basket and repeatedly finished at the rim. He posted up and scored. He outran the Boston defense several times in transition. In a game featuring the NBA draft's second and third overall draft picks, plus noted rising second year player Jaylen Brown, Kuzma was arguably the best player on the court.
"I knew and I just felt like I could do more," Kuzma said. "I needed to be more aggressive. I needed to shoot it more. My first couple of shots went in early, and that helped a lot. I calmed down and kept shooting."
Kuzma following Friday's debut texted with family and friends who gave advice on how to proceed in Game 2. He was able to display the confidence that enabled him to declare for the draft against the advice of pundits and NBA personnel.
Kuzma always suspected the NBA would be better for him than the college game. And Kuzma loved his time at Utah, loved playing for the Utes and looked at coach Larry Krystkowiak as a father figure.
But a staple of the league is spacing, with a deeper 3-point line, more playmakers and the kind of freedom within an offense he didn't get in college, primarily because of zone defenses and opponents' ability to clog the lane.
"I always felt like I could thrive with more space to work," Kuzma said.
If the first weekend of his professional career says anything, it's that Kuzma's draft stock may actually have been undervalued. Not many thought Kuzma was even going to be drafted in the first round.
At 6-foot-9, Kuzma's been able to take bigger defenders off the dribble, and punish smaller ones closer to the basket. The passing wizardry of Ball has offered Kuzma open looks from three. And Kuzma's been making pro 3-pointers at a higher clip than he did with the Utes.
"I actually think the pro line has helped me," Kuzma said. "When I'm shooting from the deeper line, I know that I have to get my legs into the shot. And that's helped me concentrate."
After Saturday's game, he spoke with well-wishers, chatted with his agent and plotted a day off on Sunday.
Kuzma ate dinner with family, hung out with friends and watched film. He knows his defense needs to improve, and that he missed a few assist opportunities. But he will continue to be aggressive, continue to shoot without conscience.
"I know I can play at this level," Kuzma said. "I have to continue to go out there and play well."
Kyle Kuzma update
• Scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds in his debut against the Los Angeles Clippers
• Dropped a game-high 31 points against the Boston Celtics
• Has the second highest scoring game of the Las Vegas summer league, behind San Antonio guard Bryn Forbes, who scored 33 points on Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers