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Despite the Wizards’ overall decline, Kyle Kuzma is seizing his moment

The Washington Wizards forward has been playing very well this season due to improved play, even while the team has performed poorly in recent weeks.

Phoenix Suns v Washington Wizards
Kyle Kuzma has played very well recently with the Washington Wizards.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Few bright spots remain from the Washington Wizards’ sterling start to the season that ended up being too good to be true. The one constant still standing is Kyle Kuzma.

The 6’10’’ forward was the most valuable piece in the multi-part return Washington received from the Russell Westbrook trade. However, that seemed more by default rather than a testament to how people actually viewed his potential.

But in a season that’s slowly started to spiral out of control, he remains the buoy keeping us afloat. It’s scary to wonder: Where would we be without Kuz?

Not even the most pro-Kuzma outside observers could have reasonably predicted that he’d be the Wizards’ most consistent performer. He was anything but that on the Lakers, constantly ridiculed for his inconsistent output.

Despite all kinds of vitriol hurled at him for underperforming in purple and gold, Kuzma’s belief in himself never wavered. After the Lakers’ early playoff exit last season, he remained vocal on simply needing a less erratic role to produce at a high level.

“My biggest thing is I just want to play within a consistent role,” Kuzma said in an interview with Bleacher Report in July 2021. “If I have that ability, I’ll be able to showcase what I can really do. There were parts of this year—and even anywhere else in my career—when I’m in a consistent space, I’m out there handling the ball, making teammates better, scoring, shooting, defending, rebounding. I think if I’m in that space, I’ll be good.”

“I don’t really care what nobody thinks or says,” he continued. “I know myself, and I know my ability. It’s hard to be consistent in an inconsistent role. I’m excited for a more consistent space next year.”

Kyle Kuzma was traded for Westbrook three weeks later. On the Wizards, he has found the consistent space he so actively yearned for - and he’s made good on all of his promises.

Over the past 20 games, he’s averaged 21.4 points on just a shade below 50% shooting from the field to go along with 10.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. All would be career-high numbers for Kuz by a wide margin.

He’s scored in double figures and grabbed five or more rebounds in each of the last 20 games. The defensive effort has started to come around this season as well, with Kuz getting a blocked shot in each of his last 11 games, including the game-sealing swat on Joel Embiid just last week.

Raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they can show you a glimpse of a young player turning into a dependable veteran right before our eyes.

That’s not to say that what we’re seeing is going to be the norm going forward. There’s still a lot to be skeptical about with Kuzma. The sample size is still too small to guarantee this is anything beyond a hot streak.

But watching Kuz slowly strengthen his argument game-by-game to make believers out of Wizards fans is one of the reasons why this season still feels worth watching despite the on-court success tapering off.

“Obviously, I didn’t have this type of role at the beginning of the year and it’s been picked up over the last two months,” said Kuzma after their win over the Sixers. For me, I’m ready for this moment. Been ready for this moment, been asking for this moment for years. I’m just ready for it.”

“I put a lot of work in. I love the game. I study the game. I care about the game and it’s just coming easy to me now. I’m just reaping the fruits of my labor and all the hard work I put in.”

Whether we’re buying in now or later, Kyle Kuzma is seizing his moment in D.C.