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Should the Wizards be all in on Kuzmania, Part 1?

We start previewing the Wizards’ season based on what we think Kyle Kuzma will provide.

NBA: Washington Wizards-Media Day Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to preview the 2022-23 Washington Wizards season by tackling topics in a new debate format and we’re going to kick things off by debating perhaps the Wizards’ most engaging and charismatic player, Kyle Kuzma. Kuz, coming off a career year, is going into a potential contract year with a player option after the 2022-2023 season.

The team clearly did well in the trade with Los Angeles which got Kyle Kuzma to D.C., but where do he and the team go from here? Are you all in on Kuzmania or do you think the Kyle is a means to an end but not the end? We asked Marcus and Renzo to debate this topic. Who’s side of the debate do you find yourself on?

Moderator: Coming off a strong end to the 2021-2022 season, should the Wizards trade Kyle Kuzma ahead of his contract year, or commit to re-signing him at season’s end?

Marcus: Once again, we are in this situation of potentially overpaying a player that can probably be replaced with a much cheaper, more efficient option. I like Kuzma, but I don’t know if it makes sense for him to be the 3rd option on THIS team. When he was the 3rd option on the Lakers during their championship run a few years ago, he was playing next to Lebron and Anthony Davis. There is no one in front of Kuzma that is quite at Lebron’s and Davis’ level so you are already expecting a lot more from him than he had to contribute as a Laker.

The other part of this is I am not sure how effective Kuzma will be next to two players in Beal and Porzingis, who are expected to have a lot of the offense run through them. Last year, I actually thought Kuzma found the ability to be more effective playing with the ball in his hands.

If he’s going to have the ball less in his hands, why not get someone who is more adept at being a catch-and-shoot type at a cheaper option? It’s time to sell high, let someone else pay him.

Renzo: I disagree Marcus.

Kyle Kuzma, in his first season with the Wizards, was the player the Lakers thought they were going to get when they shielded him from the Anthony Davis trade. Instead, they got a young player evidently tentative playing next to LeBron who, for as great as he is, doesn’t always mesh easily with every kind of player.

Away from the LA spotlight, Kuz showed growth in virtually every area of his game last season. He showcased his playmaking ability off the bounce with a career-high 3.5 assists per game. At the same time, last year felt like the first campaign Kyle truly played up to his 6’10” frame, taking a huge leap in “big man” stats with career highs in rebounding rate and block rate.

If anything, playing alongside two middle-of-the-pack stars like Beal and Porzingis requires a third option who can do much more than be a simple catch-and-shoot player. Kuz’s versatility enables him to fill holes in a lot of areas, and boy do we have holes.

Re-signing Kuzma, who just turned 27, secures us his prime years. Letting him go for a trade package likely centered on a late first-round pick, if even that, would be a waste of an on-court asset.

Oz: Kuzma played 66 games last season. In the first 33 games, he averaged 13.4/8/2.8 on 20 percent usage and 51.4 percent TS. In his last 33 games, he averaged 20.8/9/4.2 on 27.9 percent usage and 56.6 percent TS. Do you have any concerns that his end-of-season play is sustainable with Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor?

Renzo: Will Kuzma maintain 21-9-4 next season? Probably not, just based on usage alone. But I’d say that stretch was key for him to become a better player next season, even as he drops in the pecking order behind Beal and KP.

Kuz was vocal before he joined the Wizards that all he needed was a more consistent role and greater opportunity. But it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t some self-doubt that crept in after he flamed out in LA. His stellar play was a reminder, not just to his critics but to himself that he, in fact, has that dog in him.

Brad may want the ball in his hands, but he’s far from a game-controlling superstar like LeBron James or Luka Doncic. Kristaps as a big man definitely needs to play off teammates who can create as well. There will be opportunities for Kuzma to thrive on a team that clearly doesn’t have the firepower that most playoff teams have.

Marcus: So here’s the thing, there appears to be a direct correlation with his increased production and his usage going up and it’s not just from last year. His best year statistically prior to last year, came in his 2nd year in the league, which was also his first year next to Lebron. After Anthony Davis got to the Lakers the next year, there was a decline in his production and efficiency (declined in PPG, EFG%, TS%), which really didn’t go back up until last season with the Wizards. Playing with one player who has a lot of usage is one thing, but there isn’t a lot to support him being as effective next to two.

And that’s the biggest unknown at this point, how Kuzma will fit with Beal and Porzingis? The Porzingis’ part is important because there wasn’t a player on the roster last season that equated to how Porzingis played prior to Porzingis being added to the roster.

The stats and eye test scream for Kuzma being a player that is most effective with the ball in his hand, but he’s not effective enough on offense to be one of the primary options on a contending team, at least not one where Beal is considered the No. 1 option. So there is the conundrum, do you sacrifice touches for your two best players to help Kuzma continue to be effective? Does that lead to winning?

As much as I do like his vocal leadership on the court, I honestly think you would be better off selling high, recouping some assets, and perhaps finding a player who is a better fit next to Beal and Porzingis at a cheaper price. I think his fit next to these two is questionable and paying him an extension to continue to lock in a “medium 3” is #SoWizards and will continue the treadmill of mediocrity.