SALT LAKE CITY — This time of year is always eventful for prospects who are hoping to be selected in the annual NBA draft, but the last three weeks have been particularly wild for former University of Utah forward Kyle Kuzma.
Since announcing on May 3 that he was hiring an agent and would not be returning to the Runnin’ Utes, Kuzma has received his degree from the U., thrown out the first pitch at a Utes baseball game (very low and outside), turned in one of the better performances of any prospect at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, and has worked out for five NBA teams in advance of the draft.
The fifth team to bring Kuzma in for an audition was the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. The Michigan native was joined most notably by college teammate David Collette, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent and is expected to remove his name from consideration.
Also working out were Kansas forward Landen Lucas, Croatian forward Nik Slavica, Chicago State guard Fred Sims Jr. and Idaho guard Victor Sanders.
“I feel like it’s just a great privilege for me to come back here,” Kuzma said afterward. “I love Salt Lake, and it’s always great to get back here and to potentially play down the road would be pretty cool. I have a nice following here and I love the area, so it’s just cool. Definitely a cool experience.”
Kuzma, who had support at Zions Bank Basketball Center from Ute assistants Andy Hill and Chris Jones, called Tuesday’s workout “by far the hardest” of his five so far because he hasn’t been here much over the past few months and had to readjust to the altitude.
Though the 6-foot-9 forward said he isn’t necessarily trying to prove anything during his workouts (he said he has 12 more currently on the schedule), he has been eager to display an improved shooting stroke that he’s been working on since his final season with the Utes ended.
That shot opened eyes at the Combine, where he went 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point line in the one game of 5-on-5 he played en route to 20 points.
“A lot of people were surprised, but I really wasn’t,” he said of his performance in Chicago that, in many draft analysts’ views, improved his stock considerably. “I put a lot of work into my game every single day. You get out what you put in. I kind of expected it from all the work I put in.”
As for analysts’ mock drafts, most of which are pegging Kuzma in the middle of the second round, he acknowledged he sees them, but doesn’t think about them too much.
“Of course you’re going to look at them, but at the end of the day, it’s not (San Antonio Spurs general manager) R.C. Buford’s or (Utah Jazz general manager) Dennis Lindsey’s mock draft,” he said. “It’s DraftExpress. They don’t really have too much say. I just come in, work, and something’s working for me, so I’ve just got to stick with it.”
Kuzma said it can be challenging both to travel from city to city for workouts and still exert maximum energy in front of team personnel, but he is grateful for the opportunity.
“Of course, being in the NBA, you look to eventually make money, but for me it’s a dream,” he said. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was 2 years old, Fisher-Price rim in my room. This is just a great experience for me. I’m just enjoying the process, getting in NBA gyms.”
As far as what Jazz personnel thought of Kuzma’s workout on Tuesday, Lindsey didn’t meet with the media afterward, but vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said Kuzma was the best player on the floor, and he called it a “good” workout for the prospect.
Perrin acknowledged he wanted to bring Kuzma in later in the process to face better competition, but did notice how the forward’s stroke has improved.
“His 3-point shot’s really gotten a lot better,” Perrin said. “That helps his game in the long run.”
The longtime Jazz executive hedged when asked how Kuzma projects either for the Jazz specifically or the NBA as a whole, but did say he’s unsure whether or not Kuzma has the lateral movement to play small forward.
Perrin didn't comment on Collette since the Murray native hasn't hired an agent, but Kuzma said he's looking forward to the big man having a strong campaign on the hill next season.
As for his future, Kuzma said many teams see him as a modern-day “power forward,” someone who can handle the ball and stretch the floor.
“I feel like, talking with teams, they think I’m really versatile,” he said. “I can do a lot of things with the basketball and affect the game without really scoring, which I feel like there’s not too many 4 men in the draft that have my similar skill set and can do multiple things like that.”