LOS ANGELES — Luke Walton enjoyed the pre-draft interview, and liked what he saw on tape. But still, he figured it would take time for Kyle Kuzma to develop into a real NBA player.
He didn’t realize he would need to find rotation minutes for the rookie forward from Day 1.
Likewise, Lonzo Ball, who grew close with Kuzma over the summer, said he did not remember Kuzma from UCLA’s one matchup against Kuzma’s Utah Utes last season.
“I almost gave UCLA a triple-double that game,” Kuzma said. “So I don’t know about that.”
One thing that has not often been disputed is how impressive the 27th overall draft choice has been not only in the first practices of the preseason but throughout the summer. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the summer league championship game in Las Vegas.
Whatever hype has found Kuzma doesn’t compare to what surrounds Ball, but Kuzma is undeniably a fan favorite, with fans greeting him with drawn out moans of “Kuuuuuuz” when he has taken the floor in the preseason.
On media day, second-year forward Brandon Ingram called him “Kyle Kuzma, the steal of the draft,” as though that had become his official name.
In Saturday’s preseason opener, Kuzma scored a team-high 19 points and he came out hot again on Monday against Denver, draining his first two 3-point attempts.
“He looks really good,” forward Julius Randle said last week. “He plays with a tremendous amount of energy, pace. Obviously can score the ball, very active.”
Following his performance Saturday in Anaheim, Kuzma started hearing a lot of buzz – about himself.
“Definitely everybody was excited,” Kuzma said. “Especially coming out the gate like that, nobody was expecting probably to do that.”
Kuzma left Utah after a junior season in which he was voted first-team All-Pac-12 despite being pegged as a likely second-round draft pick. He was the star of the first day of the NBA Draft Combine in May and one of the first players to work out for the Lakers.
“I am a really confident person,” he said, “and I believe in myself and always thought I would be a first-rounder because of my talent level.”
What caught most by surprise in summer league was Kuzma’s efficiency from 3-point range. He shot just 32 percent from the arc as a college junior, but so far that seems to be a staple of his game in the pros.
“I’m playing care-free,” Kuzma said. “The movement of the offense and the way Luke coaches allows us to do a lot of…