Washington Wizards Forward Kyle Kuzma Showing his All-Around Game After Los Angeles Lakers Trade

ORLANDO — Never one to lack for confidence, Kyle Kuzma always knew he had more to offer and plenty of weapons in his arsenal if ever given a chance to display them. Unlike the supporting role he had for years with the Los Angeles Lakers while behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Kuzma needs to do everything in his power to rally a Washington Wizards team out of a midseason slump.

Kuzma is answering that call of late, posting five double-doubles in six games. He capped one of the best stretches of his five-year career in Orlando on Sunday when he scored 27 points and grabbed a career-best 22 rebounds as Washington rallied to a win so ugly only a head coach could love it.

“I’m just really locked in and focused,” Kuzma said in his postgame interview in Orlando. “I take care of my body every single day. I just have to make sure I get enough sleep, so I can make sure my energy is right to come out and compete.”

Finally a full-time starter, Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma is doing much more now

Shipped to Washington along with Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope so the Lakers could acquire Russell Westbrook, Kuzma has free rein to show off more of his game with the Wizards this season. His scoring is down a bit from early in his career (14.9 PPG) because of some spotty perimeter shooting, but the 6-foot-9 forward is posting career highs in rebounding (8.4 RPG) and assists (2.9 APG).

Kuzma has needed just 37 games to rack up 14 double-doubles — three short of the career-high 17 he had as a rookie with the Lakers in 2017-18. More importantly, he has already impressed All-Star teammate Bradley Beal, who said he marvels nightly at Kuzma’s complete package of size, speed, and athleticism.

“We’ve challenged him, he challenges himself to do more, and I told him at the beginning of the year that he should have a double-double every game,” Beal said. “It’s just easy for him with his size and his athleticism. When he can (grab the rebound) and push, it makes the game easier for him, me, and everybody. When he’s aggressive on the boards, I know he’s in tune with the game.”

Kyle Kuzma is appreciative of his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and with LeBron James

Kyle Kuzma won a championship with the Lakers in 2020, but he did so while starting just nine games all season. He supplemented the starting lineup by averaging 12.8 points in 25 minutes a night. As a whole, Kuzma’s time in LA was mostly maddening to the Lakers because of the forward’s sometimes wavering focus, his poor shot selection, and overall inconsistency.

Getting shipped to Washington meant the 26-year-old Kuzma would finally have a set role as a starter and key contributor. Also, he could finally show off all the layers of his game with an expanded role. He’s played especially well in that role at times, scoring a season-best 36 points on Jan. 3 in a defeat of the Charlotte Hornets and topping 20 points 12 times.

For all of that production, Kuzma is quick to thank … the Lakers, a franchise he always seemed to have a love/hate relationship with during his up-and-down time there. As it turns out, Kuzma said, sitting and watching greatness aided him and helped prepare him for this expanded opportunity in Washington.

“It feels great, but I credit a lot of my success this season to my past two years of taking a seat and watching some great players play and learning from them,” Kuzma said, referring to James and Davis in Los Angeles. “I just knew once I got traded that it was a golden opportunity to enhance my game and show everything I am capable of with this opportunity.”

The Washington Wizards need Kyle Kuzma’s best every night to get back on track

The Wizards opened the season 5-1 and 10-3 — largely because of Kuzma’s do-everything style of play early on — but they are now sitting at a somewhat disappointing 20-20. The reason for the drop-off? Washington went from sixth in defensive efficiency through 15 games (103.8 points per 100 possessions) to 26th (115.4) over the next 25 games.

Washington got Rui Hachimura (personal issues and COVID-19) back on Sunday, and center Thomas Bryant (knee surgery) and power forward Montrezl Harrell (health and safety protocols) will be back soon. Kuzma is hopeful that the additional firepower will make Spencer Dinwiddie, Beal, and himself better rested and ultimately more efficient.

“We’re trying to win, and we’re not just punting the season away,” Kuzma said. “I know we’ve had some hiccups, but I’m a big part of this team, and I’ve got to be ready every night. I’m a leader and a starter, and this is important to me.”

All quotes in the story were obtained firsthand.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.

RELATED: Kyle Kuzma Puts His Former Lakers Team on Blast Before Hitting the ‘Delete’ Button