Wizards

Add Kuzma to long list of ex-Lakers thriving on new teams

Wizards
Kyle Kuzma, Washington Wizards

Every year, it seems there's another ex-Laker balling out on his new team. This season, it's been Kyle Kuzma

Acquired in the Russell Westbrook trade with Los Angeles over the summer, Kuzma has quickly become the Wizards' best player not named Bradley Beal. He's averaging 17.2 points to go with a career-high 8.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Since Beal went down with a season-ending wrist injury at the beginning of February, Kuzma's averaged 21.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists as Washington's de facto No. 1 option. 

It's been a surprising development for a player who was more of a role player at his previous stop, but the shock factor goes away once you factor in the Lakers part of this. For nearly a decade, Los Angeles has been drafting promising young players only to watch them blossom the moment they landed with another team. 

Past examples include but aren't limited to Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Julius Randle. All former first-round picks with high upside who only started to realize their potential after getting traded away by LA. The Lakers are great at identifying talent. They just can't develop it. 

Such a notion probably won't bother Los Angeles and its massive fanbase given Ingram and Ball were two of the players traded to New Orleans for Anthony Davis, who ultimately brought LA a championship in his first season. Teams that lure players like LeBron James in free agency don't have to worry about developing young players as much as smaller market teams. 

 

However, it's still a lesson that situation matters in the NBA, and players can exceed expectations if they're thrust into the right role. Kuzma was used primarily as a 3-and-D wing who could double as a third scoring option behind James and Davis on a good shooting night. 

That role produced mixed results for Kuzma, who is historically a streaky shooter. If you make a 6'10 forward who's a streaky shooter spot up all the time and only guard players quicker than him, mixed results are in store. Again, not every player can have an optimal role on a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

With the Wizards, Kuzma has played power forward almost exclusively. Going against bigger defenders has opened up more driving lanes for him when he gets run off the 3-point line and it's a big reason why he's had a career year on the boards.

Now that Beal is down for the season and the Wizards traded away Spencer Dinwiddie and Aaron Holiday, Washington has leaned on Kuzma to make plays for others.

It would've been hard to imagine point-Kuzma at any time before this season. He didn't have a great handle and his feel for the game certainly lacked. But both of those areas have improved tremendously as his role has expanded in D.C. Some young players just surprise you when given more opportunities.

Kuzma's played well enough that even though three of the five players acquired in the Westbrook trade (Dinwiddie, Holiday, Montrezl Harrell) are gone, the Wizards are still clearly the winners of that deal. We haven't even touched on how dynamic Kuzma has been in the clutch this season. 

Whether you believe going all-in for multiple championships or emphasizing player development is the better path for team building in the NBA, one fact remains: If there's a young player the Lakers are looking to move, expect him to break out shortly after joining his new team. 

Kuzma will get a chance to showcase his new role against the Lakers twice in 10 days, starting with a 10:30 p.m. tip on March 11.