With 43% of the vote, fans chose Kyle Kuzma as the next Wizards player to go through my Statistical Doppelgänger Machine. To summarize what I wrote about Kuzma in May, his overall production last season was largely in line with his career norms with a few exceptions — he got more defensive rebounds, produced more assists, blocked a few more shots, and committed more turnovers.
In my PPA metric (where average is 100 and higher is better), Kuzma rated a 108, which was the best mark of his career and a little better than average. Here’s his year-by-year PPA scores:
- 2017-18 — 89
- 2018-19 — 95
- 2019-20 — 59
- 2020-21 — 98
- 2021-22 — 108
- Career average — 91
He had a stretch of almost half a season (37 games) where he produced a solidly above average 127 PPA. That’s the same mark Andrew Wiggins produced for Golden State this season, and Wiggins played in the All-Star game and had an important role in the Warriors’ championship run.
Here’s a look at some of the stats I use when evaluating players (box score stats are per 100 team possessions, unless otherwise noted):
- Offensive rating (points produced per 100 individual possessions): 103
- Usage: 23.8% (average is 20.0%)
- Points: 25.5
- Rebounds: 12.6
- Assists: 5.3
- Steals: 0.9
- Blocks: 1.3
- Turnovers: 3.8
- Fouls: 2.9
- Free throw attempts: 8.5
- efg: 52.0%
- 2pt%: 52.6%
- 3pt%: 34.1%
- FT%: 71.2%
His offensive rating was 8.7 points per 100 possessions below league average. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of reason to think this inefficiency was a result of a big offensive load. His efficiency throughout his career has been significantly below league average, even with a lower usage rate, and even when on the floor with players like Lebron James and Anthony Davis.
Last season, Kuzma shot a bit worse than league average from everywhere — twos, threes and free throw. He did more playmaking than he’d shown previously in his career, and while his turnovers rose, his assist-to-turnover ratio did improve to a career best 1.4. League average was 1.9 last season. It was still worse than average, however.
One more thing before getting to the Doppelgänger results: the on/off numbers. I’d caution against reading too much into them given the roster upheaval, which included Bradley Beal missing half the season, and the trade that sent starting PG Spencer Dinwiddie to Dallas and brought back Kristaps Porzingis.
It’s worth noting, however that the team was better on both offense and defense when Kuzma wasn’t on the floor. This is true when looking at full season numbers, when looking only at games Kuzma played in, and when looking at Kuzma when paired with the team’s “stars,” Beal or Porzingis.
To the Doppelgänger Machine.
For those unfamiliar, my Statistical 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.
One note: the top three on the list below rate as reasonably similar to Kuzma, but the similarities get a bit more distant beyond that.
- Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors, 2020-21, age 25 — After five seasons of sometimes brushing against average, Wiggins kinda broke out with Golden State. In this comp season, Wiggins hit his highest full-season PPA (114), which he then surpassed this past season with a 127. On one hand, YAY! Kuzma’s top comp is an NBA All-Star starter who just won a championship. On the other hand, Kuzma’s top comp made a light-speed transmogrification from disappointment to overrated, and he’s crazy expensive for what he does.
- Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic, 2017-18, age 22 — Similar production pattern, though Gordan was a bit better in this comp season (PPA 121 to Kuzma’s 108), and throughout his career. With the exception of his rookie year, Gordon has rated better than average every season of his career. Kuzma cracked average for the first time this season. Gordon has six seasons that rated better than Kuzma’s performance this year.
- Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers, 2018-19, age 26 — Like Gordon, Kuzma and Harris have similar production patterns, but Harris is just better. Harris had a 140 PPA in this comp season and 10 seasons with a PPA higher than Kuzma’s 108. His best season was a 168 in his age 28 season with Philadelphia in 2020-21.
- Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic, 2018-19, age 23 — A bit of a down year for Gordon — this 112 PPA season was sandwiched between a 121 and a 119. His best season: a 134 at age 20, by the way. One more example of how improvement for a young player should never be assumed.
- Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks, 2014-15, age 26 — A second round pick (38th overall), Parsons burst into the league with a 107 PPA as a rookie, and he improved from there — PPA: 127, 125, 130 (the comp season, the best of his career), and 129. Then he kept getting hurt and went from being a productive starter into a replacement level producer when he could get on the court.
- Metta World Peace, Houston Rockets, 2008-09, age 29 — This was World Peace’s second-last above average season — a 114 PPA. He followed it up with a 100, and was a solid, league-average contributor for another three seasons (to age 33) with the Los Angeles Lakers. At his peak, World Peace was a terrific defender and elite pest — two things no one has ever accused Kuzma of being.
- Keith Van Horn, New Jersey Nets, 2001-02, age 26 — Like Harris and Chandler, patterns of production are similar, but Van Horn was better. This comp season was one of six consecutive years with an average or better rating, five of which rated a 120 or better. In this comp season, Van Horn’s PPA was 127. What ended his “streak”? A spate of injuries that diminished his production, kept him on the sidelines and convinced him to retire at 30.
- Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers, 2019-20, age 27 — See #3, above.
- Walt Williams, Toronto Raptors, 1996-97, age 26 — Here’s yet another player with (somewhat) similar production who was generally just a bit better than Kuzma has been to this point. In this comp season, Williams had a 103 PPA, which was down from 119 the previous year. Williams peaked at 122 with the Rockets in his age 29 season. Also, true story alert: I once stole the ball from Williams during a pickup game at Five Star camp.
- Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns, 2019-20, age 24 — Remember, the similarities at this point are there but aren’t as strong as they’ve been with some other players. This was Oubre’s best season — a 112 PPA. He followed that with a 102 for the Warriors in 2020-21 and a 97 last season with the Charlotte Hornets.
The bright side with Kuzma’s comps is that they all were at least decent players. On the other hand, his list of comp feels a bit like an all-overrated or overpaid list. And the recurring theme is that Kuzma has been a poor man’s version of the best of these guys.
Who’s next through the Doppelgänger Machine
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