Kyle Kuzma off to hot start, looking comfortable in new role

Kuzma off to hot start, looking comfortable in new role originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Kyle Kuzma picked up right where he left off in the Wizards' win over the Bulls on Friday night. He sank a long range three with 27 seconds remaining in the first half, then came out in the third quarter and hit two more. Pop, pop; a Bulls timeout.

That same trajectory has taken place over a span of 10 months. After playing some of the best basketball of his career through the latter half of last season, Kuzma has not missed a beat to begin this one. He's the Wizards' leading scorer through two games and against Chicago dropped 26 points, shooting 8-of-16 overall and 4-of-8 from the perimeter.

Kuzma has come out of the gate this season unseasonably hot and that is despite struggling to find a shooting rhythm through the Wizards' four preseason games.

"I just took my time during preseason. I really just tried to sit back [and get a feel]. I've been in the league long enough to where I can turn it on and off," Kuzma said.

The 27-year-old says he used the preseason as a time to adjust to new teammates. He took mental notes of how they like to play, then proceeded accordingly.

The Wizards saw a different version of Kuzma emerge in late December last year. Including his start to this season, he has averaged 20.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.0 blocks across 39 games. He has shot 47.0% from the field and 35.2% from three during that stretch.

Kuzma continues to cruise through opposing defenses, finding mismatches on a nightly basis with his size and athleticism.

"He's letting the game come to him, I think reading the flow and playing downhill at times," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

The Wizards are finding more ways to get him downhill. Unseld Jr. has explained recently how he believes Kuzma is at his best in the open floor. In order to generate more of those types of opportunities, Kuzma has been given the green light to take the ball coast-to-coast off defensive rebounds. They are also incorporating more plays where he brings the ball up off inbound plays to initiate the offense in half-court sets.

There are more 6-foot-10 point guards nowadays than there were in the past, but it is still a unique element. It's also relatively new to Kuzma, who is now playing in his 6th NBA season.

But he loves the feel of it so far.

"Never did it in L.A. [with the Lakers]. Obviously, we had great players so that wasn't my calling. But I have that ability. I can get a rebound and push, I can orchestrate things. I have a high enough IQ to understand who needs the ball in situations and what we kind of need," Kuzma said.

The Wizards have won each of their first two games and, while neither win was a perfect performance top to bottom, they have to be pleased with the early returns of their core offensive trio; Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kuzma. All three have shined in both games and on Friday combined for a particularly entertaining display of offensive highlights.

Beal hit the game-winning basket with 7.4 seconds to go, Porzingis delivered a lightning strike off a stepback three and Kuzma offered a platter of high-flying dunks, including one over Bulls big man Andre Drummond. The three Wizards combined for 59 points on 53.5% shooting. Washington will take that every night from their primary scoring options.

Kuzma was arguably a question mark of that equation going in, as last season it took time for him to adjust to new surroundings and because Beal and Porzingis' career resumes would suggest they were the top two priorities in the playbook. Maybe those questions were unfounded, or Kuzma has simply done a tremendous job of answering them.

The net result is Kuzma has played like an All-Star going back over a sample size of nearly half a season. If he keeps this up, and Beal and Porzingis keep doing their part, the Wizards will not be fun for opposing defenses.