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NBA PM: The Impressive Arrival of Kyle Kuzma

Kyle Kuzma is showing that Lonzo Ball isn’t the only exciting rooking playing in purple and gold, write James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The NBA preseason serves several purposes. It represents an opportunity for fringe basketball players to try to secure a final remaining roster spot, for new teammates to become more acquainted with each other on the court and for rookies to continue acclimating to the pace and physicality of NBA games. Occasionally, a player can burst through and show off skills and abilities previously unnoticed or recently developed.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ roster is deep with young talent and financial flexibility. This combination gives them multiple routes to continue improving. Fans and observers around the league have been focused on rookie guard Lonzo Ball, the most talked about rookie in years. However, anyone watching preseason basketball should have already noticed the other talented rookie wearing purple and gold.

Kyle Kuzma, selected with the 27th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, has gotten off to an impressive start to his professional career. While the Lakers have been fairly miserable in their preseason games so far (1-3 record with an ugly win against the Sacramento Kings last night), Kuzma has been a revelation. The young forward has led the team in scoring in three of the four games and was edged out last night by third-year forward Julius Randle. Not bad for a late first round pick that many casual NBA fans are not familiar with.

Let’s take a quick look at how Kuzma ended up with the Lakers.

After keeping the second pick in this year’s draft, which was used to select Ball, the Lakers had to decide what to do with their prior number two pick from the 2015 draft — D’Angelo Russell. Russell had shown the ability to score in the clutch, make nifty passes and use shifty timing to do damage on the offensive end. Unfortunately, a number of factors (attitude, maturity, etc.) contributed to Russell being seen as an asset that could be dealt rather than a foundational piece to build around.

On June 20, 2017, the Lakers traded Russell and the burdensome contract of Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets. In return, the Lakers received veteran center Brook Lopez and Kuzma. Lopez’s contributions on both ends of the court will be invaluable for a team looking for veteran leadership and reliable contributions. His contract is also expiring, which makes him a valuable trade piece as well. Kuzma, a trade throw in, has been one of the biggest surprise performers this preseason and represents long term value that many in Los Angeles and around the league had not anticipated.

Through four preseason games, Kuzma is averaging 19.5 points on 30 percent three-point shooting. Both of those averages dropped after a so-so showing yesterday against the Sacramento Kings (15 points on 6-12 shooting along with eight rebounds). Through the first three games, Kuzma had been shooting 35.7 percent from three-point range before going 1-6 against the Kings. With the ability to get to the basket, to score from all over the floor and great balance on a jump shot he gets off quickly, Kuzma is already shaping up to be a great shooter and scorer. At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, long reach and athletiscism, Kuzma has the size to play either forward position.

Should we have predicted Kuzma would be this effective this soon? In his final year with the Utah Utes, Kuzma shot 32.1 percent from three-point range. However, Utah slotted him into a more traditional big man role, which likely diminished his ability to show off these abilities consistently. Kuzma also showed off an array of ball skills in this year’s Summer League. His poise and consistency so far has been the continuance of a trend and less likely a total fluke.

With versatility and scoring potential, Kuzma has the sort of talent and potential the Brooklyn Nets are looking for as they continue their own multi-year rebuild. While the Nets hope that a fresh start and better structure can bring out the most in Russell’s potential, the Lakers should receive credit for acquiring a talent like Kuzma in a deal where they also shed the albatross contract of Mozgov.

As a rookie, and yet another young role player on the roster, don’t expect Kuzma to always be an effective contributor or reliable defenders. The Lakers have been last or second to last ranked defense for three years in a row and while Kuzma has potential, he isn’t going to be able to address those shortcomings on his own. Adding Lopez should help but a slow big man with good instincts can only cover up so much. The most you can ask from Kuzma is to give good effort and learn quickly to be a consistent defender at the NBA level.

Assuming that Kuzma’s shooting and scoring is not a fluke and he can be relied upon to some extent, then the Lakers should make every effort to work to get him into the rotation. The Lakers are building towards becoming a championship caliber team and developing a player with Kuzma’s potential could be a significant step forward in achieving that goal. The Lakers will likely have significant cap space next season and will be in the market to add star players. With several young players developing into above average and star-level players, it’s imperative that players like Kuzma are given the opportunity to contribute and gain experience.

The question is where does Kuzma fit in best at this point? Right now, it’s reasonable to assume that Randle will start at power forward and Brandon Ingram will start at small forward. Forward Larry Nance Jr. is set to pick up minutes at the four as well. Veteran Luol Deng, who was very ineffective last season, will likely get minutes both at small forward and power forward as well. At this point, it looks like Kuzma will find minutes when other players are limited by injuries or when Luke Walton wants to add some more athleticism to his lineup.

Whether Kuzma earns consistent playing time immediately or at some point in the future, it’s already apparent that the Lakers found an exciting and talented player in its trade have a with Brooklyn. Lopez already represented significant value and the moving Mozgov’s salary was a key move in building the Lakers into a championship contender. Adding a player with Kuzma’s talent and potential is a bonus and is the sort of acquisition that the best teams tend to make on their respective paths back to contention.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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NBA Daily: Warriors Depth Shines on Opening Night

The Warriors have lost some key veterans but opening night showed they still have the depth to reign supreme, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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With the Golden State Warriors emerging victorious on ring night behind big performances from Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, and the summer addition of DeMarcus Cousins, it’s easy to see why many have penciled them in for a three-peat.

When Cousins returns to the court, the Warriors will be able to play a lineup of five All-Stars with Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With all of that star talent they possess, it’s easy to overlook the surrounding depth that they’ve managed to accumulate.

A successful organization like the Warriors becomes successful because they have a great front office in place who can identify talent and a good coaching staff who can develop that talent. Having superstars in place certainly helps, but all championship teams need to have that key depth.

Last night, the Warriors showed that they don’t just consist of their superstars, they’ve got some weapons on the team that are very capable of having big nights of their own.

The past few seasons, the Warriors depth in the frontcourt consisted of older veterans such as Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and David West. Pachulia and McGee signed elsewhere while West retired. With Cousins still recovering, that leaves the majority of the frontcourt minutes to younger, more inexperienced players such as Damion Jones and Kevon Looney.

Neither Jones nor Looney has seen much action during their first few seasons in the league. Looney had his fourth-year contract option declined a year ago, and this summer he received very little interest in free agency before re-signing with the Warriors. Prior to last night, it seemed as if Jones would follow the same fate as the team has until Oct. 31 to pick up his fourth-year option.

If last night was any indication, however, the Warriors would be wise to keep both around for as long as possible.

Making his first ever career start, Jones passed his initial test. He looked like a perfect compliment to the Warriors All-Stars. He ran the pick and roll to perfection, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. He can finish around the rim, and he also had three assists.

Defensively, he blocked three shots and matched up well with Steven Adams all night.

Coming off the bench, Looney had a productive game of his own. He had a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Eight of his rebounds came on the offensive end, helping the Warriors gain extra possessions. He also had two assists and two blocked shots.

Both big men, Jones in particular since he’s the starter, will have a few more tests coming up as the Warriors travel to Utah and Denver. Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic await them. It will be interesting to see how they respond to that. For the duration that Cousins remains out, the Warriors will be relying quite a bit on their young big men.

Should either one falter at any point, the Warriors still have Jordan Bell waiting in the wings. Bell proved to be a second-round steal last season, but only saw six minutes of action on opening night. Bell brings a bit of a different skill set to the table than Jones and Looney. He’s a versatile big who can guard multiple positions.

As the season goes on, what was once thought of as an area of weakness for the Warriors, might turn out to be a position of strength. And if that occurs, that bodes ill for the rest of the league.

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NBA Daily: Instant Reactions From Day One

With the NBA beginning its new season last night, Matt John analyzes all that’s happened so far in the season’s first two NBA games.

Matt John

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The NBA is BACK everybody!

After an agonizing five-month wait, the 2018-2019 season was born Tuesday night. As always, the NBA likes to start off the season with only two games, but with four teams who should play a big role in how this season turns out.

This year, it was Boston against Philadelphia and Golden State against Oklahoma City. The best part about it is that, this time, nobody had to leave with a season-ending leg injury five minutes into the game, so it’s already better than last year’s opening night!

Now, of course, it’s a long season – which to every NBA junkie is a good thing – but since we only got a taste of what this year could bring, it’s only appropriate to air out some knee-jerk reactions after day one of the new NBA year.

Some of these reactions will be about the players. Others will be about the team in general.

Game One: Boston Celtics 105, Philadelphia 76ers 87

The Atlantic Division rivals had a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. Despite what the final score may say, this was a tight game until Boston pulled away in the fourth. Both teams had the jitters, as the very first shot this season was an airball three-point attempt by Robert Covington. Boston missed its first five shot attempts, and Philadelphia made only one of its first six tries.

When both finally shook off the rust, it was a game of runs. When one team got going, the other followed suit. The Celtics may have led for most of the game, but the Sixers refused to back down.

What’s to think of how these teams did in their season opener? Let’s take a look.

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Ben Simmons looked every bit like the reigning Rookie of the Year. In 43 minutes, Simmons put up a near-triple-double, scoring 19 points, corralling 15 rebounds and dishing out eight assists. He didn’t do much to disprove the skeptics who constantly point at his almost non-existent jump shot, but Simmons is such a freight train in transition that it might not even matter.
  • Joel Embiid put up a usual Joel Embiid stat line – 23 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, but he coughed up five turnovers and even committed a frustration foul or two. Aron Baynes and Al Horford always seem to give Embiid fits because they make him earn his buckets. If the Sixers hope to get past the Celtics, Embiid has to overcome their pesky defense.
  • Markelle Fultz looked a bit out of place. Putting up five points on 2-for-7 shooting, committing three turnovers and recording the lowest plus-minus with a minus-16 isn’t a good look for him. Still, he wasn’t a complete disaster, and Philadelphia knows he’s a work in progress.
  • The real disaster for the Sixers was their turnovers. Philadelphia led the league in turnovers last year with 16.4 per game. If they hope to improve on that, Tuesday night wasn’t the best start, as they surrendered 16 giveaways.
  • As talented as they are, the Sixers have some holes that need to be filled, primarily with their shooting. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova gave the Sixers more floor spacing to help them go on that late-season surge last season. With them gone, the Sixers might have a spacing problem if neither Mike Muscala nor Wilson Chandler fills the void.

Boston Celtics

  • Coming into the season, many believed the Celtics’ calling card would be their depth, and the opening game showed why. The most notable statistic for them: Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward combined for 6-for-26 from the field, yet Boston still won by 18 points against a team many believe will be its toughest opponent in the conference.
  • While Irving looked off his game, Hayward definitely looked rusty. It’s been said that Hayward still lacks explosion off his left foot, and it definitely looked that way. Still, Hayward hit a few long jumpers and showed hustle and great defense. Even if he won’t be 100 percent from the get-go, the Celtics can afford to be patient.
  • Another telling statistic: The Celtics top nine rotation guys were in the game on a range from 19 to 30 minutes. If this is is what their minutes output will look like this season, then the Celtics’ stamina will be at an unfairly high level when the playoffs come around.
  • Both Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier continue to prove that their performance from last postseason was no fluke. Tatum continued to demolish any defender Philadelphia threw at him. Rozier, on the other hand, played well enough that Brad Stevens decided to go with him in the finishing lineup instead of Irving. To be fair, Irving couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
  • The Celtics’ versatility also shined. Their starting lineup was Irving, Tatum, Hayward, Horford, and Jaylen Brown. To start the second half, they replaced Hayward with Baynes. Before Philadelphia waved the white flag, the Celtics’ finishing lineup was Horford, Hayward, Tatum, Rozier, and Marcus Smart. Should they stay healthy, the Celtics have limitless options.

Game Two: Golden State Warriors 108, Oklahoma City Thunder 100

We got round three of Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant. The only problem? No Westbrook, as he sat out to rest his knee. Despite missing both Westbrook and Andre Roberson, the Thunder made the Warriors work for the win. Though the game looked like a typical Warriors route in the beginning, the Thunder impressively kept up with the reigning NBA champions until the very end.

The Warriors won because, well, they’re the Warriors. They’re a ridiculously talented team that shouldn’t be slowing down anytime soon. Although, this matchup should become all the tighter when the Thunder become fully healthy. Onto the reactions!

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • The headline for these guys: Moral Victory. OKC gave Golden State all they could handle – even taking the lead at one point – down to the final minute. That’s not an easy task when you’re down your best player and arguably your best defender. Even if the season started with a loss, the Thunder can only build off of this.
  • Goodness, the Thunder might just be the most athletic team in the league. Aside from world-class athletes such as Westbrook and Paul George, OKC has some high-flyers including Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo. No matter how good they’ll be this season, we should brace ourselves for some exciting dunks from the Thunder this season.
  • Props should go to George, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder for not backing down in their time of adversity – especially Schroder. Filling in for a former MVP candidate on a good team is no easy task, so his performance should really excite Thunder fans.
  • While the Thunder are in salary cap hell and it may be difficult, they need to do everything in their power to get more shooting. Last season they tied for No. 24 in three-point shooting percentage at 35.4 percent from deep. The only team that ranked lower was the Spurs. If they want to make noise, they need a pure shooter on that team. It could open up so many possibilities for them.
  • Billy Donovan could find himself on the hot seat this season. Since Kevin Durant’s departure, the Thunder have only mustered three playoff wins in the last two years. Now that George is committed long-term and the Thunder have re-tooled, he has to feel good about himself after their game against the Warriors.

Golden State Warriors

  • No matter how much fans outside of the Bay Area hate them together, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make beautiful basketball together. On their ring night opener at Oracle Arena, they combined for 59 points on 20-for-41 shooting and 15 assists. It may be frustrating, but it has always been a spectacle. Even if this is the last year they play together, Durant and Curry should go down as one of the league’s most potent scoring duos to ever play together.
  • Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Klay Thompson or Draymond Green – at least in regards to this game. Neither of them was impressive to start the season. Thompson had 15 points on 5-for-20 shooting, including 1-for-8 from the perimeter. Green had two points on 1-for-6 shooting with six turnovers. His 13 rebounds made up for it, but it still was not his best performance.
  • Who would have guessed that centers Damian Jones and Kevon Looney would play a big part in the Warriors toppling the Thunder? The two of them combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds on 11-for-18 shooting. If either of them has a legitimate role on the team, then the Warriors may have more frontcourt depth than we might’ve thought.
  • It feels weird to say that the Warriors aren’t actually fully healthy at the moment with DeMarcus Cousins out indefinitely. It’s almost as if him being on the team is overkill. Though the Warriors’ act has grown tiresome, thinking of what this team could be with Cousins should excite any basketball junkie out there.

Overall, it was a satisfactory day one for the young season. The biggest takeaway is that the NBA has returned, which should make everyone as giddy as can be.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?

With the passing of Rich DeVos in Orlando and Paul Allen in Portland, what’s next for those franchises?

Steve Kyler

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What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?

The NBA lost two massively influential owners this year in Orlando’s Rich DeVos and yesterday’s news of the passing of Blazers’ owner Paul Allen.

While it’s early in the process, there is a growing sense in both situations that the teams both titans owned will likely change hands in the not so distant future.

Here is what we know at this point:

In Orlando’s case, the team’s ownership was moved into a family trust some time ago, with the prevailing hope from the elder DeVos that the team would stay in the family after his passing. The team is currently controlled by Dan DeVos, who is chairman and governor of the team.

DeVos has said recently that the family has no intentions of selling the team, yet there are not very many in NBA circles believe that will be the case in the longer term.

The Magic are one of the teams to watch in terms of changing owners, however, they are not a team that can relocate given the very restrictive lease terms they agreed to when they landed their arena deal.

Another factor with the future of the Magic is the massive development taking place across from the Amway Arena that’s been led by the current Magic ownership. The project is just getting underway, and league sources believe the value of the Magic franchise could take a big jump up once that project is finished.

There has been talk for some time in NBA circles that current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers would have interest in an ownership stake in the Magic should the team become available. The same is true of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who currently has a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings. O’Neal has been vocal over the years that he’s ready to talk should the Magic hit the market.

In Portland’s case, obviously, the news of Paul Allen’s sudden passing makes the Blazers future murky. Allen’s holding company Vulcan Inc. technically owns the team, and the belief is nothing will change on that front in the short term.

As John Canzano chronicled for the Oregonian, Allen’s sister Jody is his closest surviving relative and there is a sense she may not want to own the Blazers in the medium-term.

Bert Kolde, who is Vice Chairman of the Trail Blazers, will continue to run the day to day aspects of the business according to reports and insiders. There is some concern that, with Allen’s passing, the unlimited green light to spend and acquire assets that had become so common under Allen’s leadership may not be as aggressive.

During the summer, one insider commented that the Blazers were always active in trying to move around for draft picks and assets and never afraid to leverage cash to get things done. That may change with Allen’s passing.

If the Blazers hit the market, and many expect that they might in the near term, it’s believed re-locating the franchise wouldn’t be a consideration, especially with how successful Portland has been as a smaller NBA media market.

One thing to keep in mind is that, with NBA franchise valuations well over the $1 billion mark, a fast transaction in either team’s situation isn’t likely.

As with all things in the NBA, these are fluid situations, especially with the Blazers – so both will be situations to watch.

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