Kyle Kuzma could produce similarly to a certain Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer.
Kyle Kuzma is arguably the most polarizing player on the Los Angeles Lakers. Some Laker fans are high on Kuzma and are holding out hope, others have bought into the idea that Kuzma has been overrated by the fanbase. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Kuzma has moments in which he looks like a legitimate third scoring option, creating his own shot and being a playmaker for his teammates. He then has moments in which he plays terrible defense and cannot get the shot going offensively.
Kuzma is still young though and he is going to (hopefully) continue to get better with time. When we take a trip down memory lane at all of the great players in Los Angeles Lakers, there is one Hall of Fame player that sticks out as the best version of Kuzma moving forward.
That player is Jamaal Wilkes.
Kuzma is likely never going to reach the level that prime Wilkes did, but he can produce at a very similar level as Wilkes did later in his career for the showtime Lakers. In fact, Kuzma’s numbers last season are already quite comparable to some late-Wilkes numbers.
We are comparing Kuzma’s 2019-20 campaign with Wilkes’ 1983-84 campaign — his tenth year in the league. Wilkes got more playing time so his averages were higher, so let’s look at the per 36 numbers.
As you can see, the points per 36 minutes are nearly identical, with Kuzma sitting at 18.4 points and Wilkes 18.6. Fouls are practically identical, as are turnovers, blocks, free-throw percentage and two-point percentage. Kuzma rebounds slightly more, but Wilkes had slightly more assists.
The overall shooting numbers skew in Wilkes’ favor but that is by nature of the league changing. Wilkes did not take three-point shots, whereas if he played in this era he would. He had a funky-looking shot, but he could hit his open shots in the mid-range and on the elbow and with today’s coaching and knowledge, probably would have been a comparable three-point shooter to Kuzma.
Wilkes still has a better eFG% (.515 to .500), but again, that would change if Kuzma took the shots that Wilkes was taking.
The two players are close analytically as well. Kuzma and Wilkes were 0.1 off in Defensive Box Plus-Minus (Wilkes was not a great defender at this point in his career), with the main difference being the Offensive BPM. Wilkes was 0.6, Kuzma is -1.6. Again — trying to force Kuzma to be a three-point shooter hurts these metrics.
Their usage rates are nearly identical (22.9% for Kuzma compared to 21.1% for Wilkes), and their PERs are not that far off (12.2 for Kuzma, 15.4 for Wilkes). We are seeing numbers from Wilkes late in his career that we could see from Kuzma.
Kuzma fits the old-school style of basketball much more. Just like Wilkes, Kuzma’s athleticism and ability to cut to the basket would have really fit well in this generation and I would bet that Kuzma’s production would further mirror Wilkes’ in 1983-84, if not be better. If you put this Wilkes on today’s Lakers, I think the results are the same as Kuzma’s.
Wilkes was much better at finishing in traffic at the rim and was a better passer, but these are things that we have seen Kuzma thrive in at times and at his absolute he could provide a very similar outlook for these Lakers. He is inconsistent, but his ceiling is that of a late-career Jamaal Wilkes.