25-under-25: The best of the rest

(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /
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nba trade deadline
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34. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

How fitting that the most surprising rookie from last year’s class comes in one spot higher than the man who made his existence as a Laker a possibility.

Last summer, the pick that became Kyle Kuzma was included in the deal that excised D’Angelo Russell from tinseltown. The Nets probably never expected someone picked No. 27 in the draft to outplay the crown jewel of their offseason, but it’s hard to argue otherwise. Last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Kuzma became just the 13th rookie in the last 20 years to average 16 points per game while sporting at least a 54 true shooting percentage. He is the only one of the group who was drafted outside of the lottery.

Aside from wondering what he can do for a follow up, the biggest question now surrounding Kuzma is how long he’ll be making those improvements for the Lakers. It’s possible that LA will keep all of its young talent and try to land another big fish next summer, but if a trade materializes in the meantime, you can bet they won’t hesitate to break up the clubhouse. Given Brandon Ingram’s ceiling and the uncertain trade value of Lonzo Ball, Kuzma is a natural candidate to be the centerpiece of any package.

What he would net in a trade depends on whether anyone sees him as more than simply a one-dimensional scorer. The shooting seems to be legit, and at 6-foot-9, he offers all kinds of positional versatility. If Kuzma can play even a lick of defense (the Lakers were considerably better on that end when he was off the floor), Kuzma will make the top 25 next season. What uniform he’ll be wearing at the time is anyone’s guess.