Kyle Kuzma often finds his name on the Twitter timeline for his outfits on the pre-match podium, but when was the last time you saw him play on the field?
For the most part, it’s probably since he wore a Lakers uniform last season, so if it’s been a while you might want to tune in.
The 26-year-old is enjoying the best part of his career, looking like the player he was once supposed to be after averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game as a rookie, winning first-team rookies honors with Los Angeles back. in 2018.
But before we get to his recent resurgence, let’s get back to how he ended up here.
Kuzma showed so much potential during his rookie season that he has become a building block in Los Angeles’ upcoming title chase. Once LeBron James arrived in town – with business rumors inevitably following him – Kuzma managed to be the only young player to survive the mass exodus.
They didn’t re-sign Julius Randle to make room for James, and after one season the Lakers traded the rest of their young core in a package for Anthony Davis. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart were all sent to New Orleans, but Kuzma was the only young player in that core to stay. (To be clear: Alex Caruso also stayed, but he wasn’t considered as valuable then as he is now.)
It even got to the point that Kobe Bryant was talking about why the Lakers considered Kuzma “untouchable”.
Kuzma won the 2020 NBA Championship with the Lakers, but after failing in 2021, Los Angeles tried to move quickly to maximize LeBron’s championship window. He traded Kuzma, along with Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a first-round pick at the Wizards for Russell Westbrook, which brings us up to speed.
The deal allowed Kuzma to prove himself as a player in his first season under James’ wing since his rookie year, and he made the most of this opportunity, maximizing his skills in a way he would never have been able in Los Angeles.
Take this recent stretch for example.
I can write that Kuzma is averaging 23.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 52.4% from the field in his last 11 games, but that doesn’t give him back the same justice as when you see these matches listed:
- vs. Knicks: 18 PTS, 10 REB
- against 76ers: 12 PTS, 10 REB
- vs Heat: 22 PTS, 7 REB
- against Cavaliers: 25 PTS, 10 REB
- against bulls: 29 PTS, 12 REB
- against hornets: 36 PTS, 14 REB, 6 AST
- against rockets: 24 PTS, 9 REB
- against bulls: 21 PTS, 11 REB
- against Magic: 27 PTS, 22 REB (!)
- against Thunder: 29 PTS, 5 REB
- against Magic: 19 PTS, 10 REB, 9 AST
During that streak, Kuzma had eight double-doubles, a nine-game 20-point streak and an unfathomable 27-point, 22-rebound game. After an almost triple-double effort on Wednesday, the Wizards have now won three games in a row, appearing to get back on track after a fiery start derailed by a regression to the average.
Kuzma was the most impactful player in that quick turnaround, becoming a shot maker, playmaker and rebounder in every game.
His nine assists against the Magic were a season high, distribute passes in the back on the quick break like we’ve never seen before. He had a post shot that had the official NBA Twitter account comparing his footwork to Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake”.
And he has become a reliable No.2 scoring option behind Bradley Beal with his tough shot on display throughout this recent hot streak.
But most impressively, Kuzma has been there for the Wizards anytime they need a pull from the clutch, knocking down a handful of daggers – whether it’s to put the game out of reach, tie the game or win the game. match.
According to NBA statistics, Kuzma’s 65 points in the clutch rank seventh in the league, behind Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and Zach LaVine.
Talk about decent company.
Kuzma shot 51.3% from the field and 50.0% from 3 in clutch situations – shooting percentages that are better than any of the aforementioned players except DeRozan.
He has two match winners this season: one against the Pistons and one against the Cavaliers. He would have a third against the Bulls, but DeRozan’s second miraculous buzzer-beater in as many days ruined him.
All of that to say that this season, Kuzma has been so much more than the fit photos you see on Twitter or any perception you still have of him from his Laker days.
He has been a legitimate difference maker for the Wizards and is starting to blossom into the player he was meant to be after his rookie season in Los Angeles.