Kyle Kuzma was an integral piece of the blockbuster trade that ultimately landed Russell Westbrook with the Los Angeles Lakers a few weeks back.
Kuzma, who was LA’s longest tenured player at one point, was sent to the Washington Wizards in order to make the finances work. His roughly $3 million contract from the 2020-21 season becomes $13 million for the 2021-22 season.
After the trade became official, it wasn’t immediately clear how Kuzma ultimately felt about it. He clearly loved being a Laker, and some of his initial comments felt antagonistic towards the players and franchise he’d spent the entirety of his career with.
Namely his little digs at LeBron James and Anthony Davis stood out, as did his blunt commentary on how the Lakers utilized him.
In 2018-19, Kuzma averaged a career high 18.9 points per game. Unfortunately, when the Lakers then subsequently went out and acquired Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans – his totals fell off a cliff. Last year he averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and struggled badly to make any sort of meaningful impact on the team in the playoffs.
By the time the year ended, the Lakers were desperately looking to deal him.
This week, Kuzma opened up about his new situation in D.C. and how excited he is for a fresh start.
“Coming to this organization, [general manager] Tommy [Sheppard] has said they have high expectations for me. I want to withhold that,” Kuzma said, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports.
Kuzma is also going out of his way to really tailor his game to what the Wizards will ultimately need from him.
“This offseason I’ve really done a great job of hammering my ball-handling. I think last year with the Lakers, I did a great job of showing and being a willing passer, somebody that can get guys open and get guys open looks,” he noted.
“For me, adding a handle and a more consistent, stronger one will really allow me to be an on-ball type of guy. Not only just a scorer and be that type of threat, but be a threat to get guys open. Get Rui [Hachimura] open shots, get [Bradley Beal] easier looks, help Spencer [Dinwiddie] get downhill, get big [Daniel] Gafford pick-and-roll lobs; all those things, it’s going to help.”
After putting up the second-best three-point shooting percentage of his career last season, Kuzma also wants to continue to make improvements in that area.
“That’s something that I’ve really worked on this offseason. Being able to, whether it’s pick-and-roll, break a guy down,” he continued. “Getting just a quick and efficient shot, whether that’s off-the-dribble, getting into the midrange. That’s something I want to continue to improve on because I believe I can do that at a high level.”
Steph and Ayesha have chosen sides in the Dell-Sonya divorce. https://t.co/WYod8oVZfr
— Game 7 (@game7__) August 26, 2021
Kuzma has a lot of talent, as he displayed early in his career. Given that the Wizards don’t have a ton of proven players besides Beal, he should have a decent amount of opportunities to improve his stats. The question for him is whether he can go from stat-filler on a bad team to a meaningful contributor on a good one. He wasn’t able to do it in LA.
Will the Wizards be a different story? Time will tell.