Kyle Kuzma made leaps and bounds in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year, but despite all that he was still left off of the annual Sports Illustrated top 100 players list.
According to Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, that snub has motivated Kuzma all summer long.
“Kuz is a different guy,” Johnson said. “Man… man… He got mad because he wasn’t in the top 100, so I’m glad they didn’t put him in the top 100 so he can keep working hard. It’s that type of drive that we have from these players.”
It seems all of Kuzma’s hard work has paid off as people within the Lakers organization have already noticed his marked improvements in the gym. Johnson went so far as to joke that Kuzma thought he was playing so well that he thought he was his newly acquired MVP teammate at one point, LeBron James.
“For a week, nobody in this gym could touch Kyle Kuzma because he just lit it up for a whole week until LeBron came back (laughs),” Johnson joked. “He thought he was LeBron until LeBron showed up.”
Johnson and the Lakers received quite a bit of outside criticism this offseason when they seemed to focus on filling their roster with role players rather than signing other stars to play alongside James. If Kuzma’s improvement is as dramatic as it sounds, the Lakers may not need to look outside their current roster for stars at all.
The 2018-19 season is sure to be full of real growing pains for the Lakers as Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram look to take the next step in their own careers. While they are all still very young, James’ arrival marks the beginning of a win-now mentality that simply has not existed for the Lakers since Kobe Bryant‘s departure in 2016.
Expectations for success can be a double-edged sword in NBA. Based on Johnson’s opinion of Kuzma, it seems the second-year forward is ready to meet and surpass those expectations in the 2018-19 campaign.