With the NBA Draft in the rear view mirror, the Lakers sport four new youngsters on the roster.
Much has been made about Lonzo Ball and his fit with the Lakers, but little has been spoken of the fit of the other three draftees. Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant bring the Lakers much needed shooting, play-making and defense.
Our staff took some time to look at each player and discuss how they may fit with the current Laker roster.
When the Lakers walked into Draft night with three draft picks, there was rightful reason for optimism. While the team had just dealt D’Angelo Russell, having three draft picks in what was widely-regarded as a deep and talented draft class was an adequate consolation prize.
However, through no fault of his own, fans were immediately down on the selection of Kyle Kuzma at pick No. 27. With more fan-favorite options available (e.g. Josh Hart, Derrick White), selecting Kuzma left fans frustrated even before knowing much of anything about the forward.
But a quick glance through either highlight videos or DraftExpress breakdowns of Kuzma will explain why the Lakers moved on him. A 6’9.5″ forward with a 7’0.25″ wingspan and an 8’11.5″ standing reach, the physical profile of Kuzma jumps out. His 84 threes attempted last season suggest he’s a stretch four option, but his 32.1 percent three-point percentage cast some doubt on that role.
Kuzma is not someone that will be a pure stretch four, but he’s also a player with the skillset of a wing in the body of a forward. In his interview following the NBA Draft, general manager Rob Pelinka suggested they see Kuzma as a prospect who could also play the three.
Last season, Kuzma was the focal point of Utah’s offense, sporting a team-high 27 percentage usage rate. He nearly averaged a double-double of 16.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, but his 3.2 assists per-40 minutes show his versatility as a playmaker.
He was often put in pick-and-roll situations as the ball-handler and excelled at finding teammates with his ability to see over the top of the defense.
Kuzma excelled in the open floor, scoring 1.34 points per possession in the fast break last season. Considering the team just drafted a point guard in Lonzo Ball who excels in the open floor, this pick begins to make more sense.
Even more encouraging is that, over his final 17 games of the season last year, Kuzma shot 41.7 percent from beyond that arc, albeit on 48 attempts. While it’s certainly a small sample size, it shows the upside of what Kuzma can be.
The biggest hurdle ahead of him is that Larry Nance and Julius Randle will eat up most of the minutes at the power forward spot and any leftover minutes will be given to Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram.
Kuzma could, theoretically, see time as a small forward, but the more likely option, barring a roster move in free agency, is plenty of time with the South Bay Lakers and a potential role on the team late in the year, akin to David Nwaba this season.
With the last pick in the first round, the Lakers selected a champion, a leader and a talented player in Josh Hart. At 22 years old, Hart will be the oldest rookie on the Lakers’ roster. For the Lakers who covet maturity and professionalism, Hart will provide those aspects with little problem.
During his junior year at Villanova, Hart led his team to National Championship over North Carolina. Although Villanova failed to repeat again last season, Hart had an impressive senior campaign. He averaged 18.7 points per game while shooting an efficient 58 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep. His improved play catapulted him to winning Big East Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year honors and becoming a consensus First Team All-American.
According to DraftExpress, Hart was just one out of eleven players in Division I basketball to score over 1.10 points per possession. Hart was the first scoring option for his team, and he did most of his damage scoring in the pick-and-roll and playing off the ball. His scoring versatility and efficiency will translate well in Luke Walton’s motion offense.
As of currently, the Lakers are depleted in their backcourt. The future of Jordan Clarkson, Tyler Ennis and David Nwaba are uncertain. Depending on whether those players remain on the roster next season or who the Lakers will sign in free agency, it should be expected that Hart will garner a lot of playing time. Hart’s shooting and defense would provide the prototypical 3-and-D player that is valuable in the NBA. Hart played four years under a great program and coach so it should not be hard for him to adjust and play well in the NBA.
Admittedly, I did a full profile on Thomas Bryant for SB Nation’s Crimson Quarry. I won’t go into quite as much detail here, so if you’d like a more thorough breakdown for now, check out that piece.
If Kuzma’s physical profile is eye-catching, Bryant’s grabs every bit of your attention. He measured at 6’10.75″ at the Draft Combine with a 7’6″ (!!!) wingspan and a 9’4.5″ standing reach. And out of everything, maybe the most ridiculous number is that, despite just finishing his second season at Indiana University, Bryant is just 19 years old.
However, given those measurements, there’s obviously a reason he slid to 42nd in the draft. Bryant is very raw on the offensive end. He has a developing post game that he showed in spurts last year, but was rarely put in the situation of a straight post-up.
Bryant’s development as a three-point shooter is especially critical to his potential NBA success. In his sophomore season, he hit 38.3 percent of his three-pointers on 1.8 threes attempted per game. While his shot is still more of a set shot on a spot-up, his work over the summer suggests he’s working on becoming more comfortable knocking down jumpers.
While Kuzma is a decent bet to play in the G-League next season, Bryant is a sure-thing to at least start the season with the South Bay Lakers. How well he develops and what move the Lakers make with Brook Lopez at the trade deadline, if any, will determine whether he sees time on the Lakers.