I’m just very confident at all times. I’ve always been like that, no matter who’s guarding me or who I’m on the court with. —L.A. Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma
SALT LAKE CITY — At Los Angeles’ Staples Center Sunday, Sacramento Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield approached a fearless Kyle Kuzma on defense in the midst of the game.
“You gotta be guarding me because if he’s guarding me it’s barbecue chicken,” Kuzma told Hield.
Kuzma was telling Hield about his Kings teammate, Justin Jackson.
“Justin,” he declared. “I’m letting you know.”
The video has surfaced all over social media, raking in more than 730,000 views on ESPN’s Instagram account alone.
Although the Lakers lost against Sacramento, and aren’t close to being in playoff contention as the regular season nears its end, Kuzma still isn’t taking any prisoners on the court.
“I’m just very confident at all times,” Kuzma said, smiling. “I’ve always been like that, no matter who’s guarding me or who I’m on the court with. I just think I’m one of the best players out there. It comes from my work ethic.”
The former University of Utah star returned to Salt Lake City Tuesday as the Lakers suffered a 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz. His fellow rookie Lonzo Ball was with the team, but didn’t suit up with a left knee contusion. Kuzma would finish with 26 points and six rebounds, impressing Jazz coach Quin Snyder with his performance.
“He hit a couple tough shots off the post and you tip your hat on those,” Snyder said. “He’s a tough matchup, he’s shown that this year and he’s a guy that you can’t give him anything easy because he’s capable of making tough plays.”
Kuzma’s work ethic was once again on full display following today’s shootaround at Vivint Arena, where he was the last player to leave the floor for shooting games with Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw as Ball rebounded.
“I’m about to sweep him,” Kuzma trash talked Shaw.
That relentlessness to win every drill and call out mismatches is why Kuzma is currently the NBA’s second-leading rookie scorer behind Utah’s Donovan Mitchell.
He learned that killer instinct from playing at Flint’s downtown YMCA, then kept that same determination and drive during his three-year stint in Utah, earning All-Pac-12 First Team honors.
Lakers coach Luke Walton loves his passion, but now it’s all about keeping that confidence channeled in a positive direction, especially for this offseason heading into year two.
“He’s a very confident young man. Too confident sometimes,” Walton said. “It’s an ongoing thing where we want him with that confidence and that gunslinger mentality, but we also try to continue to show him the certain type of way of playing that we believe leads to winning, and he’s awesome because he’s all about learning and he wants to be great, so it’s just something that he’ll continue to grow with as he gets older in this league.”
Even while averaging 16.0 points and 6.3 rebounds on 45.1 percent shooting, Kuzma isn’t delusional of where he stands among first-year players. He still feels it’s a two-man race for rookie of the year with Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, but can’t decide which one will win at this point.
“I don’t know,” Kuzma said. “It’s tough to get a team in the Western Conference to the playoffs, that’s impressive, but it’s also impressive to have so many triple-doubles as a rookie. I don’t know. It’s a tough decision for sure.”
No matter who wins the league’s Rookie of the Year Award, it’s clear who’s the best rookie in Los Angles, and that’s Kuzma.
Throughout his record-setting rookie campaign, the Flint, Michigan, native has become the all-time Lakers leader for most 3-pointers made in a single season and the first rookie in league history to record at least 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 130 3-pointers.
So from now on when Kuzma calls “barbecue chicken” on the court, it comes from the legendary Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal, which signifies that his man can’t guard him, especially in the low post.
Cocky? No. Confident? Certainly.
“I’m never really surprised, it’s just who I am,” Kuzma said. “I’m always confident, always expect high expectations for myself.”