Kyle Kuzma was considered “the man” this past season at the University of Utah, but with less than a month remaining before the NBA draft, he’s lived a nomadic life by hitting the road and visiting teams around the league to prove his worth.
Ahead of the draft, Kuzma has been somewhat of an enigma to scouts and draft experts. DraftExpress, for instance, has Kuzma being selected 44th overall by the New York Knicks while NBADraft.net has him going 16th overall to the Chicago Bulls.
While it’s impossible to predict where Kuzma will get drafted, it’s safe to assume that he will be wearing an NBA jersey next season. Earlier this month, Kuzma hired an agent and opted to stay in the draft as some of his peers decided to return to school.
Why Kuzma entices scouts
Physically, Kuzma fits the bill of a prototypical, modern NBA forward, and that’s been enough to spark some interest around the league.
At 6-foot-9, Kuzma has the height to play what’s typically known as the “stretch four” at the next level. Offensively, Kuzma is versatile enough to make an impact immediately in the pros. In his final collegiate season, Kuzma displayed a skill that’s directly transferable to the next level: scoring in transition. Kuzma scored 1.34 points per fast break possession this past season, making him a legitimate threat on the open court.
The simple plays — the ones that don’t always show up on the box score — are what make the difference for scouts. Kuzma’s versatility extends to the perimeter, where he’s become a point forward, so to speak.
More than ever before, NBA teams are seeking forwards that don’t always operate inside the paint and can facilitate behind the 3-point line, giving more room for the guards to initiate offense.
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, who was a second-round draft pick in 2012, broke out by accepting his role and functioning as the team’s secondary ball handler. Kuzma, in a way, can model his game after Green by utilizing his passing skills, especially from outside the paint. Teams look for forwards that can set up their centers and scoring forwards with high-low action, feeding the go-to option inside while spreading the floor.
More importantly, with a wingspan over 7 feet, Kuzma can defend most power forwards in the NBA. He’s also shown an ability, albeit inconsistently, to defend smaller players when a switch occurs defensively, as well as the unilateral talent to defend pick-and-rolls.
Why Kuzma could scare scouts
For as much potential and versatility as Kuzma has, he hasn’t shown the necessary polish of a player with three years of NCAA basketball under his belt.
In the NBA, Kuzma will be expected to contribute offensively in ways beyond running the floor during fast breaks. As a “stretch four,” defending pick-and-rolls and guards on switches is important, but knocking down shots — at least open ones from the perimeter — is imperative.
Kuzma was a 29 percent 3-point shooter in Utah, where the line was closer than it will be in the NBA. So while he won’t be asked to create offense on his own, Kuzma will get open opportunities that he has to capitalize on.
Shooting, overall, was an issue for Kuzma in college. Kuzma scored just 0.71 points per jump shot in three seasons at Utah. He also made 59.8 percent of his free throws, which is usually a solid indicator of a player’s offensive reliability.
Kuzma’s stock, at least as of late, has fluctuated, but his recent performance at the NBA Draft Combine certainly put him on the plus side of things.
Draft experts Jonathon Givony and Mike Schmitz considered Kuzma one of the six most impressive performers after day one of the Combine, where Kuzma scored 20 points and made four of his five 3-point tries in 20 minutes of playing time. In their assessment, Givony and Schmitz noted the importance of showcasing his improved touch from the perimeter and how that could alter his draft positioning.
Kuzma has to prove that he can consistently hit jump shots — something he did at the Combine — and defend bigger players. Kuzma’s primary asset is his versatility on both ends of the floor, but he’ll also have to defend traditional big men. At the Combine, Kuzma weighed in at 223 pounds, which is about 25 pounds less than Jazz forward Derrick Favors. For Kuzma’s stock to rise, these next few weeks will be critical.