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Kyle Kuzma’s Adaptability To His Ever-Changing Circumstances Both On And Off The Court by Antonio Salgado

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Kyle Kuzma has experienced plenty of change throughout his short NBA career. The Los Angeles Lakers selected the former University of Utah forward with the twenty-seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Immediately, Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart led the charge to an NBA Summer League title.

Usually, the summer league is a blip in the NBA’s schedule. However, the Lakers starved for any success for years and their fans tuned in to summer league games. Furthermore, Kuzma’s draft mate Lonzo was the hometown kid and number two overall pick in the draft. The storyline of the southern California kid reviving the storied Lakers meant this young team played under a microscope. Kuzma shined and received the MVP in the Summer League championship game and made the All-NBA Summer League Second Team. Kuzma wasn’t viewed as a late first-round pick who can contribute to an NBA team. Instead, he was expected to be a cornerstone scorer to compliment Lonzo’s playmaking.

Fast forward to his rookie season, and Kuzma’s play did nothing to quell the high expectations placed upon him. Kuzma demonstrated a polished scoring repertoire and hit threes at a 36% clip per basketball reference. With the Lakers being an overwhelmingly young team, that season did not result in many wins, but the future seemed bright, mainly because the team found their leading scorer for the foreseeable future. Kuzma averaged a shade over 16.0 points per game and made the All-Rookie first team. Thus, it appeared the Lakers had found a star for the future and perhaps a possible big three with Kuzma, Lonzo, and Ingram.

The rookie forward really punched above his weight as a late first-round pick who had a top-five season among his rookie class. Furthermore, Kuzma struck while the iron was hot and grew his off-court brand thanks to his rookie season success. Kuzma became known for his fashion as much as he was for his on-court play, he created and sold his t-shirts displaying the moniker Kuzmania.

Whether the moniker stuck or not, it was clear that Kuzma was aware of his changing circumstances from unknown draft prospect to celebrity. Late first-round draft picks are seen as flyers hoping they can contribute to a team on a small scale at some point. However, Kuzma produced beyond expectations, and after his rookie season, it appeared that he would carry the torch for a new Laker generation. However, the situation changed suddenly when the Lakers acquired LeBron James, and the young Lakers had to adapt.

Before LeBron’s’ arrival, it appeared that Kuzma would be a central piece of a rebuild for the Lakers. Naturally, the young team would go through some losing seasons and early playoff exits and hopefully reach the top at some point. However, when the team’s new base is an all-time great basketball player, expectations change dramatically. With LeBron’s arrival, the name of the game for players became filling roles around him.

Now, Kuzma was the second or third scoring option around LeBron. Whereas beforehand, Kuzma and Ingram were supposed to fill the scoring column running alongside LeBron. However, the caveat being LeBron gets up his 20 odd shots per game. Thus, Kuzma’s shot attempts would come at a lower clip which is understandable because of LeBron. Ultimately, Kuzma did up his scoring output from 16.0 points per game as a rookie to 18.0 points per game as a sophomore. But it wasn’t enough as the Lakers missed the playoffs.

That marked the first time in over a decade that a LeBron-led team missed the postseason. So, while Kuzma’s season could be viewed as individually successful, the Lakers failed as a whole. Thus, Kuzma and his fellow young teammates realized the harsh reality of winning expectations in the NBA.

On top of that, the Lakers were front and center in the Anthony Davis trade sweepstakes. Usually, young players are the focal points of superstar trade packages, and the Lakers were no different. Kuzma and the young core went from the franchise’s future cornerstones to possibly being shipped out. The Lakers acquired A.D. via a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. As for Kuzma, he remained a Laker, but his next career act presented more change.

With A.D. now in the fold, the Lakers found the guy who would split most of LeBron’s scoring load. Any Laker not named LeBron or A.D. would be asked to play solid defense and find other ways to contribute points. For Kuzma, the days of being a centerpiece scorer on a young team or LeBron’s offensive running mate were gone.

Kuzma struggled to find his offensive footing all season as he averaged just 12.8 points per game per basketball reference. However, Kuzma did develop into a solid defender in one on one situations against wings. That was a positive development for a player who was perceived as a turnstile defensively through his first two seasons.

 Kuzma did what he has done throughout his career, adapting to his new playing circumstances. Fortunately, that adaptation was repaid in the form of an NBA championship for himself and the Lakers. He will carry the distinction of being a champion for the rest of his career. He reached the mountaintop by adapting to his circumstances and being self-aware. Now, a flashback to the 2019 off-season will reveal the foreshadowing of Kuzma’s willingness to change with his circumstances. As previously mentioned, Kuzma has gone through plenty of change throughout his career, and he has embraced change. He even took advantage of the opportunity to expand his footwear profile among NBA players. When he was drafted into the NBA, he was just another number amongst the handful of NBA players sponsored by Nike Basketball.

Before the 2019-20 season, Kuzma made the switch over from Nike to Puma. Puma was in the early stages of re-entry into the performance basketball sneaker market. Thus, the Lakers forward would be one of the few faces of Puma Basketball instead of one of many with Nike. Now, putting aside the twitter debate of what shoe contract a person would sign, this was a smart play for the Lakers’ forward. The Puma venture, along with Kuzmania merchandise was of service to his brand. Kuzma was building things his way off the court while finding his way on the court. The signs were evident that with his new shoe brand, he would be treated like a star. Fast forward to the 2020-21 season, and Kuzma has once again undergone another on-court transformation.

Meanwhile, his profile within Puma basketball’s ecosystem is trending upward. On the court, Kuzma is now playing like a blend of Kenneth Faried and his teammate Wesley Matthews. He is gobbling up offensive rebounds like some basketball version of Pac-Man while playing solid defense.

At times, Kuzma struggles defensively, especially when asked to guard either more prominent post players or smaller wings. However, when tasked with defending those 6’6 to 6’9 stronger wings, he can hold his own. The offensive rebounding is excellent because he is finding different ways to score. With Dennis Schröder, LeBron, and A.D. on the roster, that variety is needed. Kuzma isn’t asked to initiate the offense this season, and that is unlikely to change.

Furthermore, come playoff time, offensive rebounding and off-ball cutting become more valuable scoring outlets as the floor shrinks. So, he looks to be fitting a role player who can catch fire on occasion. His Puma escapade is going great as well; Kuzma was given the liberty to help design his All-pro Kuzma mid sneaker. Technically, the shoe is not a signature sneaker, but Puma giving him some creative input is a great sign. Perhaps one day, a Puzma one or something along those lines will become a reality. For now, hopefully, Kyle “Dennis Rodman 2.0” Kuzma will continue terrorizing the glass and growing his brand.

Basketball

Is The Brooklyn Nets’ Offense The New High Powered defense? by Chris Allen

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They say offense wins games and defense wins championships, but there’s a new Brooklyn Nets roster that might change this ancient philosophy in sports. The Nets are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference.

I’ve been watching the revitalized Nets with James Harden’s addition in one of the biggest blockbuster trades this season. With the addition of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and now Harden, the Brooklyn Nets arguably have three of the top 7 most unguardable players in the league. This causes a nightmare for defenses. After all, you can’t double-team anybody because you’re going to leave another prolific scorer open. Blake Griffin’s addition to the roster will make it challenging for defenses to have a scheme other than one on one. 

With their lineup’s construction, no one would be surprised if they got a bucket on every offensive possession. It must be demoralizing from a defensive standpoint to try to do your best to contest a layup from Irving as he can put your best defender on skates. Or try and put an undersized defender on 7’0 Durant because your bigs don’t have the quickness and agility to stay with him. Last but not least, you have to try not to foul Harden, who recently hacked the officiating rule perfecting his step-back three. 

With the focus on those three, how are the rest of your team not subject to being a poster prop for the year’s dunk with DeAndre Jordan and Griffin. 

From a sport psychology standpoint, you can’t go an entire fourth quarter in a close competitive game when every possession they do some lack of a better term “2K Hall of Fame Shit” without losing your competitive edge. Essentially their offense is so good that it puts pressure on the opposition to defend them on the defensive side and attempt to keep up with them on the offensive side, adding more stress to each player on the opposite team to make a play to stay in the game. This allows the Nets to be essentially mediocre on defense, and if they get a stop or create turnovers, you not only lost possession, but you put the ball back into their hands which is what you don’t want to do late in the 4th quarter. 

At this point, the only thing that can stop the Nets is a COVID protocol or injury. If the Nets stay healthy and work together as a team, it’ll be a tough challenge for anybody in the West, let alone in the East, to take down such an offense of powerhouse. With Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni on the sidelines just inflating the offense, even more, this team is dangerous. 

Irving can drop 40 on any night; Harden can get as many four-point plays as he wants, and Durant receives the green light whenever he touches the ball. Even if they miss their shots, they still have pretty solid rebounders in Nicolas Claxton, Jordan, and Griffin to reset the offense. 

Let’s not forget that they still have one of the best three-point shooters in the league, Joe Harris, waiting on defenders to make a mistake the man almost can’t miss. If the Nets make it to the NBA finals, they could threaten the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of repeating. Then again, I guess there’s only one way to determine if the offense can win you a championship. 

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Five Players In The NBA That Can Finish Their Careers With Greater On-Court Legacies Than LeBron James by @ReelTPJ

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Five players in the league can finish their careers with more extraordinary court legacies than LeBron James. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Zion Williamson, Luka Dončić, Ja Morant, and LaMelo Ball. Here’s why:

GOAT for GOAT LeBron can challenge any GOAT from Bill Russell, a pioneer amongst pioneers and leaders amongst leaders. To a GOAT such as Wilt Chamberlain, who stacked the numbers so high, not even James Harden iso’s in a Mike D’Antoni system could catch. To a GOAT such as Michael Jordan, the GOAT OF MY GOATS GOATS. It’s Mike. I’m from Chicago.

Off-the-court legacy, LeBron is tied with Jordan. Jordan is 50+ doing all this. LeBron is still in his 30s. LeBron’s done so much that I think it would be unfair to compare legacies. Michael Jordan is the precursor. So it’s hard to say LeBron can ever be better than him to those that love Mike. LeBron loves Mike.— That futuristic artificial intelligence Virtual Reality game of LeBron vs. MJ will be WILD in 2030.

LeBron’s current challengers, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, can’t catch him. Period. They’re old. They teamed up to beat bro. PLUS health. — Steph is my guy. He’s the only unanimous MVP and probably will be until Zion wins his first ring in 2025.

After Steph, THERE IS nobody good enough heading into their prime to challenge Bron’s legacy ON THE COURT. This era, 2015-2035, will also be the age of technology and the “stat” era. 50 years from now, Bron will be the first of a new generation of GOATS. He’ll be top 5 in every statistical category. Before the True Shooting percentage nerds took over the game, LeBron accumulated a large part of those numbers before the stat era began.

Also, this is the dawn of a new century. Basketball has been around for 130 years at this point. Really in its most proper form since 1970.
So let’s get to why these guys can challenge LeBron’s legacy.

GIANNIS

Giannis is a 2X MVP and a DPOY through 8 seasons in the NBA. His numbers are still on par with last year’s. He continues to shine. BIGGEST QUESTION IS…… CAN HE WIN? I’m not sure. I hope he can. I think Giannis can win 5-7 rings if paired with the right guard. Imagine Ja and GIANNIS! OMG OMG OMG! One can dream, right? Still, Giannis has GOAT potential. He has everything you want in a player; he’s young, built like a horse (I’ve talked to him in person postgame), and he’s building his game out.
He’s a better player than LeBron was at this age. His offensive bag isn’t as big as LeBron, but LeBron isn’t 6’11 and built like Giannis.

ZION WILLIAMSON

ATHLETIC FREAK OF NATURE. LOOK AT THESE STATS OVER THE LAST 9 GAMES!

THIS MAN IS 20 YEARS OLD. This man’s numbers vs. LeBron’s are INSANE! Look at this:

These numbers are insane. Yes, this is an offensive generation, but who’s bodying Zion? Who’s FIGHTING ZION? In what era? WHO?

He made Tristan Thompson look like a child. SMH. And Thompson is a BIG dude who I’ve very rarely seen get abused like that. His play is Shaq-like. Plus, he’s averaging 26 points on 16 shots per game—less than Anthony Edwards. Edwards is averaging 16.8, and Zion’s played 21 games MORE than Anthony. TWENTY-ONE GAMES MORE!

LUKA Dončić

He’s MY SON. LUKKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAAA! If he can win 3-4 rings, I think he can challenge LeBron’s legacy. He’ll have so many stats behind him. Currently, I think he has to develop his defensive game and learn to shoot and finish games better.

JA MORANT

Ja is the biggest X-Factor in the NBA. BUT he won’t be if he stays with the Memphis Grizzlies. Request a trade and LEAVE JA. LEAVE! No one wants to play for the Grizzlies.

LAMELO BALL

I told all of you, LeBron, and Kobe all in one. He’s only 19 years old! I think he has considerable potential and age for age. It’s a conversation, statistically!

LOOK:

So that’s the list! All legit arguments.

MY BAD: And I know I use to say Ben Simmons could challenge LeBron; he doesn’t have an offensive skillset when it comes to scoring. You have to do everything Bron does plus score to challenge him.

ALL STATS FROM BASKETBALL REFERENCE.

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The Bulls Got Better by Pavy

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Suppose you follow me on Twitter; the war against the Chicago Bulls Twitter is well documented. Yes, I’m from Chicago, but I enjoy being right more than supporting my hometown teams. My main riff started in the Jim Boylen era when Bulls fans told me he was a God-awful coach. My whole point was that even though he wasn’t the best coach, he wasn’t as bad as people think. The talent on the roster just wasn’t up to where it should’ve been, and it didn’t matter who was coaching. That team wasn’t that good.

This season there has been a slight improvement. Primarily because of the play of Zach LaVine. He’s averaging 28.1 points this season, but what is most impressive is his percentages. He’s shooting 52% from the field while shooting 43% from a distance. Hitting the shots that he shoots, which usually have a substantial degree of difficulty, is INSANE efficiency. But then the trade deadline happened, and the Bulls did something that we rarely as an organization see them do. MAKE TRADES.

When I woke up Thursday morning, the group chat was already in shambles. It was at least 20 messages, and I was confused. Then I logged on Twitter to find out Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis were the Bulls’ newest members. Both players make this team much better than when I laid my head down for some sleep. For one, they have two legitimate All-Stars. Something the Bulls haven’t had since I was 21. For context, I’ll be 30 in less than two months. Also, it shows the team, and most importantly, the fan base, they’re dedicated to winning. No, this move probably won’t put them in the Finals. They still might be a first-round exit, but at least it’s something to be excited about.

It’s been a long road for Bulls fans throughout the Gar Forman and John Paxson era. I honestly believe Derrick Rose getting hurt was the worst thing that could’ve happened, not precisely the roster decision they made. But regardless, it looks like the new regime has a vision, and they aren’t scared to take shots. The Bulls historically don’t trade that often. Especially not mid-season. The most significant mid-season acquisitions I can remember is probably Jalen Rose. All in all, I’m excited about Bulls fans and the city of Chicago to watch actual competitive basketball again.

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