Wizards

Kuzma and Porzingis having career years

Wizards

In the Wizards' 126-101 win over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, Kyle Kuzma returned from an ankle injury to score 33 points with nine rebounds on 6-for-10 from 3-point range. It was the eighth time this year Kuzma has scored 30 or more points, a new career-high for him in a single season.

Teammate Kristaps Porzingis had 28 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, while shooting 10-for-15 from the field. It was the 33rd time this year he has scored 20-plus points, a single-season career-high for him.

Kuzma is averaging a career-high 21.5 points. Porzingis is also averaging a career-best at 23.0 points per game, even higher than 2017-18 (22.7 ppg) when he made the All-Star team.

The stars have aligned for both Kuzma and Porzingis enjoy career years at the same time. If someone told you that before the season began, you probably would have guessed they would have a winning record at this point.

They are just short of that at the moment. With one game left before the All-Star break, the Wizards are 27-30 through 57 games. 

Some important context has gotten in the way of the Wizards fully capitalizing on Kuzma and Porzingis' seasons. Injuries and weaknesses in other areas headline that list. Still, it can only be a good sign for the Wizards to have both players ascending in the way that they are.

Both players are only 27 years old. They each were acquired via trades in what are arguably Tommy Sheppard's best moves since taking over the Wizards' front office in 2019.

 

The Wizards got Kuzma from the Lakers in the deal from Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was originally acquired for John Wall, who before he was dealt was recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon while earning a supermax salary.

Washington obtained Porzingis from the Mavericks in a trade that sent Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans to Dallas. Both contracts were eyesores at the time, and even though Dinwiddie has since both played well and fetched the Mavs Kyrie Irving in a subsequent deal, the Wizards should feel great about their return in that trade.

Kuzma and Porzingis are now key pillars for the Wizards moving forward and the team intends to keep it that way. Last week, after the trade deadlined passed, Sheppard made it clear he intends to re-sign Kuzma and also Porzingis this summer, if it comes to that.

"I think keeping Kyle, we made it clear that that's a priority for us in the offseason. Assuming Kristaps were to opt out, he's a priority for us this offseason. That's his decision and we'll address it when we're notified," Sheppard said.

Everyone knows Kuzma will opt out of the $13 million he's owed next season and seek a larger contract. That was predictable when the Wizards first traded for him in 2021. He's probably going to command double that money annually on his next deal.

Porzingis also has a player option, though his is worth $36 million and it's not as straightforward whether he will opt out. Sheppard made it seem like he at a minimum would not be surprised if he did, and plans to be prepared if that is the case.

What the Wizards will have to reconcile with if they do decide to keep Kuzma and Porzingis alongside Bradley Beal, who next season will enter Year 2 of his supermax contract, is how they can turn the numbers these players are putting up into wins. Tuesday was the 26th game those three have played together since Porzingis arrived in a Feb. 2022 trade. The Wizards are 13-13 in those games.

Injuries to other players on the roster have contributed to that record, but injuries to Beal, Kuzma, and Porzingis are the reason why the sample size is so small. It is now a calendar year later and they have played less than a third of a season's worth of games together.

How those parts of the equation - wins and availability - can be sorted out and improved upon is up to the Wizards' front office. So will be keeping these players together if they ultimately choose to.

But for now, Kuzma and Porzingis are certainly doing their part. The Wizards have two very good players at their peak powers and that can only be a good thing.