Should Kuzma Receive Jimmer-Like Reception?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Kyle Kuzma and the Los Angeles Lakers travel to Utah Wednesday to take on the Utah Jazz. In March, Kuzma, upon watching the Jazz take on a Phoenix Suns team featuring former BYU star Jimmer Fredette, requested that he get the same reception as the former National College Player of the Year.
In that March game, Fredette played 14 minutes against the Jazz, attempted 10 shots, made one, missed all five of his three-point attempts, made four free-throws, had one rebound, an assist, and a steal, and committed two turnovers.
And still, despite having one of the worst sub-15 minute outings in NBA history, Fredette was greeted like a king, cheered like a hero, and left the crowd buzzing like he had set the record for points scored by an opposing player at Vivint Smart Home Arena and not Devin Booker, who poured in 59 points for the Suns that night.
The Jazz played the Lakers two nights later, saw Kuzma score a team-high 21 points, and still, Kuzma wasn’t as well-received as Jimmer.
With the Lakers carrying the best record in the Western Conference and league’s second-best record overall, should the former Ute finally get the Utah greeting for which he beckoned?
Bad news Kuz – it’s not going to happen.
The former Ute has had a surprisingly fast start to his career in Los Angeles, making the All-Rookie team despite being the 27th player drafted in the first round. Kuzma averaged 16 points per game as a rookie, 18 points as a rookie before dropping down to just 11 points per game this season.
But it’s not the stats that will keep Kuzma from getting a Jimmer-like reception. It’s not the fact that he wears purple and gold and the Lakers are one of the most hated teams anywhere they go that will keep Kuzma from getting a Jimmer-like reception, it’s not the fact that the Jazz are rolling into this game after stumbling through a four-loss five-game road trip.
It’s that nobody gets Jimmer’s reception. Not in Utah, not at BYU, not in China, not even in Madison Square Garden. Yes, the former BYU star got a “We want Jimmer” chant at basketball mecca.
Kuzma won’t get a Jimmer-like reception because nobody gets a Jimmer-like reception. Jimmer is a phenomenon, and inherently, some parts of a phenomenon can’t be replicated or explained.
Make no mistake, Kuzma has had a better NBA career than Jimmer. Kuzma passed Jimmer’s six-year career point total (1438) 11 games into his second season. Neither player is known for their defensive prowess, so it becomes a battle of scoring, and in that regard, Kuzma has blown the Cougar phenom out of the water.
However, Kuzma doesn’t need to interpret the less-than-Jimmer reception he receives as a cold shoulder from the local fans that supported him during his three year Utah career. No former player regardless of their accolades is as well-received as Jimmer.
Former Cougar Danny Ainge played 14 years in the NBA, made an All-Star game, and won two championships with the Boston Celtics, and wasn’t welcomed back to Utah the same way Jimmer was.
Former Utes Keith Van Horn and Andrew Bogut were top two picks in the NBA draft, and never got the reception Jimmer received.
Andre Miller led the Utes to the national championship game and had a 17 year NBA career, and wasn’t shown the red carpet by fans in the state like Jimmer has seen.
Damian Lillard is the best NBA player to even play college basketball in the state of Utah, is likely hall of fame bound, and the former Weber State star will never get the reception Jimmer gets any time he steps on a basketball floor in the state.
But have we seen the last of Jimmer?
After his last stint in the NBA, it seemed like a sure thing that the guard’s NBA career was likely over. He even abandoned a summer league audition with the Golden State Warriors to make the move from China to the Euroleague where he plays with Panathinaikos.
And somewhat surprisingly, he’s playing very well. Jimmer is averaging 14.1 points per game, second-best for his Greek club. He’s averaging 2.5 assists and 1.8 rebounds and is shooting a red hot 53% from the floor, 41% from the three-point line and 94% from the free-throw line.
While his ability to shoot the ball has never been in question since moving to international play, the quality of the opposition in Euroleague is significantly higher than in China.
Could continued success in Euroleague lead to another NBA contract? If it does, expect a king’s welcome if he travels through Utah, even if Kuzma doesn’t get one with the Lakers.