Kyle Kuzma often finds his name on the Twitter timeline for his outfits on the pregame runway, but when is the last time you’ve watched him play on the court?
For most, it’s probably been since he was in a Lakers uniform last season, so if it’s been a while, you may want to tune in.
The 26-year-old is enjoying the best stretch of his career, looking like the player he was once anticipated to be after he averaged 16 points and six rebounds per game as a rookie, earning All-Rookie First Team honors with Los Angeles back in 2018.
But before we get to his recent resurgence, let’s think back to how he ended up here.
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Kuzma showed so much potential during his rookie season that he became viewed as a building block for Los Angeles’ next pursuit of a title. Once LeBron James came to town – along with the trade rumors that inevitably follow him – Kuzma somehow 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, yet Kuzma was the one young player of that core to stick around. (To be clear: Alex Caruso stuck around, too, but he wasn’t seen as valuable then as he is now.)
It even got to the point that Kobe Bryant was talking about why the Lakers saw Kuzma as “untouchable.”
Kuzma won the 2020 NBA championship with the Lakers, but after they came up short in 2021, Los Angeles tried to act fast to maximize LeBron’s championship window. It traded Kuzma, along with Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a first-round pick to the Wizards for Russell Westbrook, which brings us up to speed.
That deal has allowed Kuzma to prove himself as a player in his first season out from under James’ wing since his rookie year, and he’s made the most of that opportunity, maximizing his skillset in ways he never would have been capable of 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 percent from the field over his last 11 games, but it doesn’t do it the same justice as it does when you see those games listed out:
- vs. Knicks: 18 PTS, 10 REB
- vs. 76ers: 12 PTS, 10 REB
- vs. Heat: 22 PTS, 7 REB
- vs. Cavaliers: 25 PTS, 10 REB
- vs. Bulls: 29 PTS, 12 REB
- vs. Hornets: 36 PTS, 14 REB, 6 AST
- vs. Rockets: 24 PTS, 9 REB
- vs. Bulls: 21 PTS, 11 REB
- vs. Magic: 27 PTS, 22 REB (!)
- vs. Thunder: 29 PTS, 5 REB
- vs. Magic: 19 PTS, 10 REB, 9 AST
Over this stretch, Kuzma had eight double-doubles, a streak of nine-straight 20-point games and an unfathomable 27-point, 22-rebound game. Following a near-triple-double effort on Wednesday, the Wizards have now won three games in a row, seeming to get back on track after a red-hot start was derailed by a regression to the mean.
Kuzma has been the most impactful player in this quick turnaround, growing as a shot creator, playmaker and rebounder with every game.
His nine assists against the Magic were a season-high, dishing out behind-the-back passes on the fastbreak as we’ve never seen before. He had a post move that had the NBA’s official Twitter account comparing his footwork to Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake.”
And he’s evolved into a reliable No. 2 scoring option behind Bradley Beal with his tough shotmaking on display throughout this recent hot streak.
But most impressively, Kuzma has been there for the Wizards any time they need a clutch shot, knocking down a handful of daggers – whether it be to put the game out of reach, tie the game or win the game.
According to NBA stats, Kuzma’s 65 points in the clutch rank seventh in the league, trailing only Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and Zach LaVine.
Talk about decent company.
Kuzma has shot 51.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3 in clutch situations – shooting percentages that are better than every aforementioned player aside from DeRozan.
He has two game-winners on the season: one against the Pistons and one against the Cavaliers. He would have a third against the Bulls, but DeRozan’s miraculous second buzzer-beater in as many days ruined that for him.
All of this to say, this season, Kuzma has been much more than the fit pics you see on Twitter or whatever 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 expected to be after his breakout rookie season in Los Angeles.