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The Kuzma Efficiency Question

Is Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma actually efficient?

Washington Wizards v Utah Jazz
Is there a case to be made that Kyle Kuzma is efficient on offense this season?
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

I keep hearing talk of how “efficient” Kyle Kuzma has been this season. It’s a mantra repeated on the Wizards broadcast, opposing team broadcasts, podcasts and social media. When I wondered on Twitter why people believe this, the responses focused immediately on his shooting, which is basically about average this season.

When I pointed out that shooting is one part of efficiency — other parts include the value of offensive rebounding, assists and turnovers — the argument morphed into claims that he’s efficient for a high-usage player who’s also playmaking.

Wizards of Gallery Place podcasting colleague Domo suggested a comparison of Kuzma and “guys who actually do stuff.” Domo suggested 15+ shots per game, plus playmaking responsibilities.

Overall, Kuzma’s offensive rating after the Jazz game was -7.8 points per 100 possessions relative to league average. But that includes everyone — ultra-low usage guys like Anthony Gill, low usage caretakers like Monte Morris, and high usage freaks like Giannis.

What if we narrow things to the guys who actually do stuff?

I used the following cutoffs per 100 team possessions: 25+ true shooting attempts and 4.5 assists. Kuzma this season: just over 26 true shooting attempts and just under 5 assists. I also required at least 300 total minutes.

I played around with minute per game requirements. Setting the cutoff at 28 mpg set the group at 44 players total. At 24 mpg, the group was 45. With no mpg requirement, the group grew to 49.

Moving the mpg cutoff around made no difference, so I’m using the 49-player group.

Here’s where Kuzma ranked among this group of “guys who actually do stuff”:

  • usage: 41st (out of 49)
  • offensive rating: 40th
  • efg: 20th
  • 2pt FG%: 17th
  • 3pt FG%: 24th
  • FT%: 46th
  • TS%: 37th
  • assists: 48th
  • turnovers: 19th
  • ast/tov ratio: 46th

This group of high-usage players has an average offensive rating of 112.8, which makes Kuzma’s relative offensive rating -7.6 per 100 possessions. In other words, Kuzma was low usage within the context of higher usage players and carried a much smaller playmaking burden, and his efficiency was still significantly below average for this specific group.

Finally, I used the same statistical cutoffs but removed guards and centers. That leaves 13 high-usage forwards. Here’s where Kuzma ranks in this group:

  • usage: 12th
  • offensive rating: 13th
  • efg: 6th
  • 2pt FG%: 8th
  • 3pt FG%: 5th
  • FT%: 12th
  • TS%: 12th
  • assists: 12th
  • turnovers: 4th
  • ast/tov ratio: 12th

This group of forwards has an average offensive rating of 114.2, which makes Kuzma’s relative offensive rating -8.9 points per 100 possessions. This is the narrowest cohort of Kuzma’s peers, and he’s near the bottom in usage (meaning he has less of an overall offensive load), assists (meaning he has less of a playmaking burden) and efficiency.

In other words, whether we’re comparing Kuzma to the entire league, to all high usage players, or just to high usage forwards, his offensive efficiency is poor. And, it’s been so throughout his career.

His playmaking load is small compared to other higher usage players, even when looking only at forwards. He’s just not as good at it. For comparison, here’s the list of high usage forwards, their usage rate and offensive rating:

  1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets — USG: 30.4%, ORTG: 124
  2. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans — USG: 29.6%, ORTG: 122
  3. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls — USG: 27.6%, ORTG: 121
  4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics — USG: 31.2%, ORTG: 120
  5. Julius Randle, New York Knicks — USG: 27.7%, ORTG: 114
  6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks — USG: 39.6%, ORTG: 114
  7. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans — USG: 27.0%, ORTG: 112
  8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers — USG: 31.0%, ORTG: 111
  9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics — USG: 29.6%, ORTG: 110
  10. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers — USG: 30.1%, ORTG: 108
  11. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers — USG: 25.7%, ORTG: 108
  12. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic — USG: 28.5%, ORTG: 107
  13. Kyle Kuzma, Washington Wizards — USG: 26.0%, ORTG: 105

The Official Narrative is that Kuzma is an improved player having a career year. The real story is one that plays out every season somewhere in the NBA, and which fans and analysts for some reason love to believe: he’s basically the same he’s always been, but he’s getting more minutes, more touches and a green light. What he’s doing per possession is about what he’s always done — he’s just playing more minutes and using more possessions.

The only efficiency stat that’s up significantly from career averages is two-point field goal percentage, and it’s almost to the level he reached at age 23 — in his second season.

The Official Narrative could be beneficial if the Wizards were seeking to boost his trade value. But, they’re using the word “cornerstone.” Which is nuts. And #SoWizards.