Denver • The hottest rookie fashion statement in the NBA is coming out of Los Angeles. And it isn’t Big Baller Brand.
L.A. media reported that hyped guard Lonzo Ball had a shirt hanging in his locker that read, “Kuzmania” after Kyle Kuzma dropped 31 points on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Christmas. It’s a good bet that it’s going to be a hit given that the former Utah Utes standout is leading all rookies with 18.1 points per game.
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell has been friends with Kuzma since last spring when they got to know each another during the draft process. But don’t expect to see Mitchell wearing anything celebrating “Kuzmania” any time soon.
“I didn’t know that was a thing,” he said Tuesday at shootaround, ahead of a game against the Denver Nuggets. “I don’t think I will wear it because he’s the enemy for this whole season. Once the summer comes, I guess we can become friends again.”
Between the rookie who came from Utah and the rookie who was traded there, Kuzma and Mitchell (18.0 ppg) have two of the more intriguing cases for NBA Rookie of the Year — provided either of them can get past Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, who is the current frontrunner. Mitchell and Kuzma have swapped top scorer honors in recent weeks. Mitchell briefly had the lead after scoring 29 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kuzma took it back with his big game against Minnesota.
Mitchell, of course, was watching. And while he’s tried not to track his stats against other rookies, a performer like Kuzma is hard to ignore.
“Social media the way it is, it’s hard not to see what certain people are doing,” he said. “Especially a guy like him who’s been killing it in LA. You see that all the time. I tell him all the time I’m proud of him. He’s just gotta keep it up.”
So does Mitchell, who quickly has become Utah’s most dynamic scoring threat in his first season. He will face Denver, which traded him to Utah on draft night for third-year forward Trey Lyles, for the third time this season.
“It’s a lot harder for starters,” he said. “You understand how important the scouting report is and how guys really key in on it the third time go-around. … It’s been definitely tougher, but it’s a part of the NBA process. They’re going to see me — hopefully, God willing — for many years to come. I gotta keep adjusting and keep getting better.”
The Jazz (15-19) take on Denver (18-15) at 7 p.m. at the Pepsi Center. Utah is 2-0 against the Nuggets this season.