The Houston Rockets were rolling, winning 14 straight games, that is until last night. The L.A. Lakers rolled into town, and ended the streak, defeating Houston, 122-116, behind dominant performances from a pair of rookies: Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. And just two days following the great Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement, we’re starting to see a new level of excitement and potential in Hollywood that we haven’t seen since Bryant’s days on the court.
Bryant will be forever memorialized in the rafters of the Staples Center, with both numbers that he wore, No. 8 and No. 24, during his 1,566 regular season and playoff games with the storied franchise. He was a part (the biggest part at times) of five championship runs, including a three-peat from 2000-2002, along with Shaquille O’Neal. So it seems like the perfect time to look back at Kobe’s rookie year, and compare it to Kuzma and Ball, as well as other Lakers greats.
Kobe became one of the all-time greats, arguably a top-10 player in history depending on who you’re talking to, but his rookie season wasn’t all that promising. He played in 71 games, starting only six, and putting up just 7.6 points and 1.3 assists per game, on 37.5 percent shooting from three. It wasn’t the best start to a Hall of Fame level career, but just one year later, he was averaging 15.4 points per game. And after five seasons, he was putting up a dynamite 28.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.0 assists.
Magic Johnson, who is widely regarded as the greatest player in franchise history, got off to a much better start to his career. He averaged an incredible 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists on 54.0 percent shooting. And the same could be said from Jerry West’s rookie season, averaging a legit 17.6 points and 7.7 rebounds, prior to becoming The Logo. But partially because of how well these rookies have done in the past, the world has been looking at Kuzma, and mainly Ball, through a magnifying glass.
Both rookies have been under major scrutiny since being drafted this past summer, and were looked at to improve the franchise immediately. Especially Lonzo, who’s entire life has been put on a platter for the world to see, is expected to be the savior of the Lakers. Kuzma is averaging 17.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and is a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, and it was headlined by 38 points on 7-10 from three-point range, and 12-17 from the field. 38 points on 17 shots is as efficient as can be.
The Lakers also got a great game from Lonzo, who went for 16 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Not many people saw it coming, especially with how well the Rockets have been playing, but the Lakers are on track for their best season in five years. They haven’t finished higher than fourth in the division in the last five seasons, and their best winning percentage was 32.9 percent in 2013-14. This year? L.A. is already up to third in the division and has won 37.9 percent of their games.
There is obviously going to be some growing pains with these rookies, but from what we’ve seen over the past month, this team has potential to make some noise in the next few years. That was capitalized by a big time victory over the Rockets, and if they can keep that momentum going, we could be seeing more and more wins like this soon. We can look at Kobe’s up-and-down rookie year to show that it takes time for talented players to mature, but when they do, it’s tough to hold them down. And the L.A. has two of them.
Photo Credit: Clutch Points.