Kyle Kuzma is showing signs he could one day be the closer for the Lakers
Someday Kyle Kuzma wants to be a closer, spoken about with the same level of respect afforded players like Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, whom he faced Tuesday night.
“Once I get some years under me and get more experience and more confident taking shots and whatnot,” Kuzma said. “Hopefully in the future I can be one of those type of guys.”
As he works to get there, Kuzma shows at times that he has it in him. He did so against Boston. Kuzma has never backed down from a stage and on Tuesday the stage was a nationally televised game against the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
When his team needed him most, Kuzma helped pull them past the Celtics, and past the self-inflicted adversity caused by their free-throw shooting.
“His fourth quarter was incredible tonight,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
In his dazzling performance, Kuzma offered spin moves, behind-the-back passes, timely three-pointers and drew a foul on a three. To the delight of his coaches, his performance was about more than scoring — though he scored plenty. Kuzma had 28 points, making five of seven three-pointers, with 17 coming in the fourth quarter. He also had three assists and four rebounds. His only flaw — like other teammates — was he missed two free throws.
“I just felt like every time I touched it, just trying to score and get in a good rhythm, they went in,” Kuzma said of a fourth quarter in which he made his first six shots.
Good shot selection is something the Lakers have worked with Kuzma on in the past. It’s still a work in progress for the young player.
“It is a fine line with Kuz because we need his scoring and we need his gunslinger mentality but with that comes some bad shots,” Walton said.
Walton said the Lakers show Kuzma all of his shots on film and identify the good ones and the bad ones so he can learn the difference. What Walton liked most about Kuzma’s performance on Tuesday was that even as he got hot, he made the Celtics pay for overcommitting to him, rather than simply taking contested shots.
“That really demoralizes a defense,” Walton said. “When he drives and they come to double him and he throws a pass to Larry [Nance Jr.] for a dunk, that is really winning basketball right there. So it is a going to be a constant learning curve.
“There is not a definite answer when you are dealing with someone that plays like Kuz plays because that is part of what makes him so good, is that freedom that we let him play with. But there is responsibility that comes with that and we are on him on his shot selection a lot.”
Three rising stars
Three Lakers were selected to the NBA’s Rising Stars game, which will be played on Feb.16, the Friday of All-Star weekend, at Staples Center.
Brandon Ingram will make his second appearance in the game, joining D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Farmar as the only two Lakers to appear in the game twice. Rookies Lonzo Ball and Kuzma were also selected.
The game used to be called the Rookie-Sophomore game, but now pits a team of 10 American players against 10 international players. It’s the first time the Lakers have had three players in the game since 1997 when Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Travis Knight were in it.
Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr., Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Atlanta’s John Collins were the other rookies selected to the American team.
The international team is headlined by Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who is also a starter in the main All-Star game, and Ben Simmons, also of the 76ers.
No Grammy trip
There is no Grammy trip for the Lakers this year as the Grammy Awards will be held in New York on Sunday. Still, the Lakers are about to embark on a five-game, 10-day trip.
They’ll face the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
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