Trio of former Utes thriving in the NBA bubble
A trio of former Utah men's basketball players are enjoying life in the bubble as they're helping their respective teams in their push towards the NBA playoffs.
While Kyle Kuzma and the Los Angeles Lakers have secured the No. 1 seed in the West, Delon Wright and the Dallas Mavericks are battling for seeding while Jakob Poeltl and the San Antonio Spurs are hoping to sneak into the playoffs.
Here's a look at how each of them have fared since the NBA restart and where their current teams stand.
Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
For Kuzma and the Lakers, it's all about getting healthy, rested and finding the right combinations that work. They've already secured the top seed in the Western Conference, but if' they're to make a run at the NBA title, it's all about figuring the correct rotations they want to use come stretch time.
One person who's expected to play a major role for the Lakers other than superstars Anthony Davis and LeBron James is Kuzma, as he's looked upon as one of the keys for the team.
"Kuz has been one of our best players since this restart in these practices, he’s had a couple of stretches where he just dominated the floor and it’s been really encouraging to see," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. "He had some inconsistency with the beginning of our season because he dealt with three different injuries that really prohibited him from getting his legs under him. The shot-making wasn’t always there, but it’s been there at a very high level during this restart, and we’re very encouraged and excited about what having a real/healthy training camp could mean for him. Hopefully that leads to an increased role and gives us that boost that we’re looking for."
Kuzma hasn't disappointed since the restart, averaging 14.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on 46% shooting from the field. In a game earlier this week without James, Kuzma dropped a team-high 21 points, and added 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Kuzma's emergence in the frontcourt as a scorer and playmaker is massive to LA's success because it allows Vogel to stagger the minutes of James and Davis, LA's two stars. By staggering their minutes throughout the course of a game and season, it gives Kuzma the opportunity to play sidekick to either player while both stars stay healthy for the postseason.
Delon Wright, Dallas Mavericks
Wright and the Mavericks find themselves securely in the playoffs by being the No. 7 seed right now — yet just 3.5 games out of the No. 4 seed.
Wright hasn't been a star in the statistical categories, which isn't what he's there for. His versatility on the defensive side of the ball has been huge when paired with the shorter Seth Curry and not-as-talented defensively Luka Doncic.
While he's averaging 3.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 19 minutes per game since the restart, he did play extremely well against the Suns when he finished with 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block while playing suffocating defense.
It's not sure what sort of role Wright will carve out for himself moving forward with the Mavericks the rest of the season, but the best he can hope for is to continue to be a shutdown defender and capable shotmaker. If he does that, it adds another dimension for Dallas off the bench that they could surely use.
Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs
While Kuzma and Wright are guaranteed to see the postseason, Poeltl and the Spurs are still two games back of the No. 8 spot with just three to play.
Poeltl has really broken out of his shell with the injury to LaMarcus Aldridge, freeing him up for more minutes to showcase what he's capable of. Since the restart, he's averaging 4.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes per game — but it's him rim-altering performances on the defensive end as to where he's been proving his value.
He did have his best game in the bubble on Friday against the Jazz when he poured in 19 points and 10 rebounds in a phenomenal performance.
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