We’re in the dog days of the offseason, but training camp looms. That means I’m working on my preseason forecast, which means I’m digging into The Statistical Doppelgänger Machine.
The Doppelgänger Machine works by comparing a player’s performance across 14 different categories that include age, playing time, pace-neutral box score stats and scores from my PPA metric. All that’s rolled up into a single score that (in theory) provides a list of NBA players since 1977-78 with similar production at a similar age.
I put The Machine together in part as a reaction to the standard way of talking about similar players, which was usually based on superficial characteristics like race, height and nationality. No, white players who are good at shooting jumpers are not necessarily like Larry Bird or Kyle Korver or JJ Redick.
Tall Euros who shoot well aren’t necessarily like Dirk Nowitzki. And so on, ad infinitum in our silly way of talking about basketball players.
I’ll now get off my soapbox and get to today’s player: Kyle Kuzma.
The Wizards acquired Kuzma in their Tommy Sheppard five-team Tradeapalooza that took Basketball-Reference 197 words to summarize on Russell Westbrook’s page.
As part of a 5-team trade, traded by the Washington Wizards with a 2023 2nd round draft pick, a 2024 2nd round draft pick and a 2028 2nd round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers; the Brooklyn Nets traded Spencer Dinwiddie to the Washington Wizards; the Indiana Pacers traded Aaron Holiday and Isaiah Todd to the Washington Wizards; the Los Angeles Lakers traded Isaiah Jackson to the Indiana Pacers; the Los Angeles Lakers traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma to the Washington Wizards; the San Antonio Spurs traded Nikola Milutinov to the Brooklyn Nets; the San Antonio Spurs traded a 2022 2nd round draft pick to the Washington Wizards; the Washington Wizards traded a 2024 2nd round draft pick and a 2025 2nd round draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets; and the Washington Wizards traded Chandler Hutchison to the San Antonio Spurs. Indiana also received a trade exception 2023 conditional 2nd-rd pick is CHI own 2024 2nd-rd pick is least favorable 2028 2nd-rd pick is WAS own 2024 2nd-rd pick is more favorable 2025 2nd-rd pick is a swap option; Brooklyn also received a trade exception 2022 2nd-rd pick is an opportunity to swap.
Like a lot of players who put on a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, Kuzma has been more than a little overhyped. He’s been an acceptable and useful NBA player, though at least by my reckoning hasn’t cracked average yet for a full season. Last season was his best so far — a 98 PPA (in PPA, 100 is average, higher is better and replacement level is 45).
He’s been basically at that level throughout his career:
- 2017-18 — 89
- 2018-19 — 95
- 2019-20 — 59
- 2020-21 — 98
Here’s who the Statistical Doppelgänger Machine says are the players from years past with the most similar production at a similar age (Kuzma was 25 last season):
- Vladimir Radmanovic, 2004-05, Seattle Supersonics — Adjusted for pace, these two had nearly identical usage and exactly identical three-point attempts. Radmanovic was slightly more likely to get to the free throw line, but the free throw rates for both could best be described as anemic. Kuzma rebounded and assisted a little better; Radmanovic got more steals and fouled more.
- Vladimir Radmanovic, 2003-04, Seattle Supersonics — See above, except the rebounding gap was narrower.
- Taurean Prince, 2019-20, Brooklyn Nets — While most of the numbers do match (though Prince was waaaaay less efficient on offense that season), Kuzma has established himself as the much better player. Prince’s PPA was just a 58, which is about the level of Kuzma’s worst season. Kuzma is much closer to average.
- Will Barton, 2015-16, Denver Nuggets — Barton is more a SG/SF type while Kuzma is more a PF/SF, but the production is simillar across the board, right down to offensive efficiency. Barton scored a little more because his usage was a touch higher.
- Kelly Oubre Jr., 2020-21, Golden State Warriors — Kuzma is a bit more of a playmaker (though only a bit — his anemic assist numbers were right at career norms last season). I want to think Kuzma can’t have as low a hoops IQ as Oubre’s, but the former Wizard’s past two seasons rate better than Kuzma’s best, according to PPA.
- Wilson Chandler, 2014-15, Denver Nuggets — I know I’m not supposed to write this being that I’m a steel-hearted stats nerd, but this comp feels right for Kuzma. Decent player who had some nice moments, peaked at about average (105 PPA at age 23) who remained productive until injuries crushed whatever was left of his career after age 30.
- Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks, 2018-19 and 2017-18 — Same points as above, but these seasons were closer to Kuzma’s established level — PPA 87 in 2017-18 and a 79 in 2018-19.
- Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets, 2019-20 — A comp that underscores the importance of age. This was Bridges’ age 20 season, and his age 21 season was better than average (PPA: 109) and better than Kuzma’s 98 at age 25. In other words, Bridges is up and coming while Kuzma’s level is pretty well established at this point.
- Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns, 2014-15 — If you’re looking at mediocre forwards, at some point you’re going to get to one of the Morris twins. This Morris peaked late — his best seasons were a PPA 112 and 121 at ages 29 and 30.
- Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls, 2019-20 — This comp fits the profile: tall forward who scores with meh efficiency, rebounds at above league average and doesn’t do much else. Markkanen does less defending than Kuzma — at least the Kuzma from last season.
Next through the Doppelgänger Machine: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.