Despite being drafted 27th overall, Kyle Kuzma is one of the best rookies in the NBA. Equipped with a formidable back-to-basket game as well as a 37 percent stroke from outside the arc, his game is a dangerous hybrid of past and present. That makes him a match-up nightmare for opponents, and one of the rebuilding Lakers’ brightest spots.
When his teammate and friend Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar, criticized coach Luke Walton recently, Kuzma jumped to his coaches defense. And why not? With a per-game average of 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, Kuzma is thriving under Walton. In December, he was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month.
Back at home after a two-game road trip against Houston and Minnesota, Kuzma sat down with Rolling Stone to chat movies, music, Kuzmania, his relationship with Kobe Bryant and more.
What’s your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
There’s so much to do. If you wanna chill, you can chill. If you wanna go out, have fun, there’s nice social life. It’s right by the beach. In Michigan, there are no beaches. Not a lot of nice weather, so those are some things. I’m about a mile-and-a-half away from the beach, Marina Del Rey. I just hang out, go to movies. There are a lot of great restaurants. I’m really big into food, so I try to find as many places as I can.
Do you have a favourite restaurant yet?
There’s a restaurant in Malibu, it’s called Noble, a seafood spot. There’s a spot called Catch LA that has great steaks, unbelievable wine. It’s a lot of nice spots here. Now that you have a little bit more money, you can do those types of things.
What was your favourite movie?
The Tupac movie, [All Eyez on Me]. I thought it was pretty accurate, and it also showed a different side to him that not too many people think about when they think about Tupac.
Before we get into music… are you grateful that Lil B lifted the curse?
Well, I don’t think I had a curse. I think it was more-so like a warning to potentially be cursed, I guess. But I’m definitely thankful. He put that on a few people and it didn’t really go too well for them, so I’m definitely relieved about that.
You tweeted that Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is a top-10 album ever. Have you met Kendrick?
No, I haven’t. That’s one of the people I want to meet. Being a Los Angeles Laker, it opens a lot of doors to potentially meet people at any type of level. I would love to pick his brains and talk to [him]. He’s one of my favorite artists.
How did it feel for Kobe to take an interest in you?
Me and him share the same mentality and approach towards basketball, and that’s definitely one of the top people you want to meet, especially being a Laker. That’s one of the players I looked up to growing up. It was pretty cool that I was able meet him and I could use him as a resource in my future as a pro. So that’s definitely important to me.
What’s the best advice you got from him?
From Kobe, just stay level-headed. Just work as hard as possible. I think those are just the main two things that I really got from him that he preaches that I got from him.
That must be hard for a hard for an up-and-coming NBAer in Los Angeles.
I mean, I feel like for most guys that could be the case. Not really, for me. I just try to be a regular dude. I’ve never been into Hollywood Extra or anything like that. It’s always been about basketball, trying to get better. Every opportunity comes because of basketball and I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the other things, and then basketball gets taken away from them.
Why’d you develop an old-school, back to the basket game in this era of pace-and-space basketball?
I always tried to be an all-around player. In college, I felt like I needed to add to my game to get to another level, to get to the NBA. The NBA has really turned to positionless basketball, so it was very important to me to have an all-around game, so I could stand out in front of other guys.
At college, did you finally feel like you got the opportunities and training you needed?
Yeah. College was a big stepping stone. I went to school at the University of Utah, and they had outstanding facilities and coaches that helped me grow and mature as a person.
Why did you choose to go there?
I needed something new. Growing up in Michigan, Utah is completely different. The coaching staff there really preach having a family-oriented place, and I’m a big family person. I think it really just matched my values.
What did you do in your free time?
Well, it’s Utah. There’s not really much to do. I would play ball a lot, hang out with my friends and teammates. I’m trying to think what else. What else? What else? Let’s leave it at that. There wasn’t too much to do. It was a great place to really lock in and focus. Going to a school like that really helped me dial in on what I needed to do to improve as a player and as a person.
You said if you weren’t an NBA player you’d be a commentator. Who’s your favorite?
My favorite commentator, NBA-wise, is probably Doris Burke. She works for ESPN. I just feel like she does a great job of doing the color aspect of commentating, and she’s so insightful on the game. I really like hearing what she has to say. I really respect her opinion while she’s talking on TV.
Having a balance is always important. Especially for TV ratings, the average fan doesn’t really go in-depth about basketball. They like the entertaining aspect. Or a guy like Bill Walton. He may say a lot of very insightful things but he might get you off-topic to keep you in tune to the game because you’re gonna wanna know what he’s gonna say next.
Who came up with the idea for Kuzmania shirts?
The idea of the Kuzmania shirt came from the fans, really. It’s a thing that fans started saying. Me and my team decided to come out with shirts. Most guys, most people, they sell things that are very high priced and what not. We sell the shirts for, I think, $27 and that symbolizes me being the 27th pick in the draft. It’s really dedicated to the fanbase.
Is that something you might have picked up off from being so close to how brand-conscious Lonzo and Big Baller Brand are?
No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Being around him so much, you definitely see how his business goes and what not, so you know it could be easy to get into that, but for me, not really. My team brought up the idea. I liked it. We went with it, and the feedback we got from fans, they love the shirt, so it’s a win win.