Kyle Kuzma Pours in 35 Points, Wins Rising Stars MVP
CHARLOTTE — Kyle Kuzma has never been afraid to be brutally honest with himself.
Looking back on his performance in last year’s Rising Stars, he didn’t recall his 20 points or the fact that he and his legs were competing for the third time in three nights.
“I played in this game last year, and I was really lackadaisical,” Kuzma said, “and I didn’t want to do that again.”
Instead, he took over the NBA’s annual exhibition between top rookies and sophomores, pouring in 35 points — seventh-most in Rising Stars history — while leading the USA Team to a 161-144 win over the World Team.
Kuzma was electrifying from the beginning, scoring 14 of his team’s first 20 points. He entered halftime with 23 on a robust collection of dunks.
The 23-year-old motivated his teammates by reminding them of the extra $25,000 that the game’s winners receive — even breaking a huddle with a “bonus, one, two, three.”
And, internally, Kuzma focused on his conditioning and set his mind to taking home the trophy.
“Why not MVP?” he asked. “You’re in the game; so might as well try.”
Break out the windmill!! pic.twitter.com/RkPjhWPfZU— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 16, 2019
Currently second among sophomores in scoring this season, Kuzma’s teammates knew what kind of firepower he could bring to this game.
And he didn’t disappoint, instead breaking Kobe Bryant’s 22-year-old record for most points scored by a Laker at Rising Stars (previously 31).
Kuzma received five of the seven votes for game MVP, including one from fan voting.
“Kuz did what he’s really good at, shooting the ball and scoring the ball,” said Atlanta’s Trae Young, who had the other two votes. “That’s what he does. He definitely showed out tonight and put on a show. Kuz deserved the MVP.”
For Kuzma — who was drafted just 27th overall last year before turning in a First Team All-Rookie season — this latest honor was another step toward validating the work that he has put into his craft.
Sitting at the podium with his trophy beside him, he reflected on the 5 a.m. wake-up calls that rang throughout last summer.
“When you have a successful season like I did my rookie year, you’re going to have a target on your back, and I knew that,” Kuzma said. “I want to be great. So I got in the gym right after the season.”
As Kuzma — ineligible for Rising Stars in his third year — exited this stage in MVP fashion, he wasted no time outlining his goal for next season.
In fact, it’s been a dream of his since those childhood days in Flint, Michigan.
“Trying to make the All-Star Game next year,” Kuzma said. “That’s the next level. … I got confidence that I can one day be an all-star in this league. That’s definitely a goal for me, ever since I was a kid.”
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