Kyle Kuzma could be latest young player to thrive after leaving Lakers

Kuzma could be latest young player to thrive without Lakers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Los Angeles Lakers are good at identifying talent, they’re just really bad at developing young players. 

Over the last seven years, the Lakers have had several talented draft picks come in and out of their building, and they’ve almost always played better after getting out of Los Angeles. 

The Wizards have capitalized on this interesting NBA subplot already by signing waived big man Thomas Bryant and helping him become a starting-caliber center. Now, they’ll try to do it again with Kyle Kuzma, who was acquired in the Russell Westbrook trade on draft night. 

If the past tells us anything, Washington has a good shot at getting more out of Kuzma than the Lakers could. 

Julius Randle

The Lakers took Randle No. 7 overall in 2014 as a building block for their rebuild, but they never fully maximized his game like we saw the Knicks accomplish in 2021. Randle always flashed the scoring potential combined with an advanced handle at power forward, but for whatever reason, his weaknesses ended up mattering more in LA. 

In four seasons with the Lakers, Randle averaged 13.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 49.3% shooting from the floor and 25.7% from three. In the three seasons since, he’s at 21.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 47.9% from the floor and 35.7% from three. 

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson was a nice second-round steal by the Lakers and he was able to get numbers on bad teams for the first three seasons of his career. Clarkson turned into a chucker after a while and didn’t seem to know how to play winning basketball. 

Once he got traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and ultimately Utah, Clarkson elevated himself as a 3-point shooter and won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season. 

D’Angelo Russell

Russell was supposed to be the next great Laker but he only lasted two seasons with the franchise before getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the pick that eventually became Kuzma. 

By his second year in Brooklyn, Russell was an All-Star and 20-point-per-game scorer. There are still plenty of questions surrounding Russell’s game, but his time with the Lakers was unproductive to say the least. 

Brandon Ingram

Ingram drew comparisons to Kevin Durant early in his career, but the Lakers weren’t able to get him there — or even close, for that matter. The young wing certainly flashed his sky-high potential at times in LA, but there’s no question he’s been a better player in New Orleans.

Ingram made an All-Star team and won Most Improved Player in his first year with the Pelicans and more or less matched that production in 2021 despite not receiving the same accolades. 

Lonzo Ball

Another “Next great Laker” who got better on the Pelicans, Ball reworked his jumper in New Orleans and parlayed those results into a four-year, $85 million contract with the Chicago Bulls in free agency. 

Before getting traded to the Pelicans, Ball was looking like one of the bigger busts in recent memory going one pick ahead of Jayson Tatum. 

Kyle Kuzma?

Kuzma is not a perfect player. He’s a streaky shooter, lacks a reliable handle and doesn’t have as great a feel for the game as you’d hope for from a 26-year-old with two years of playoff experience. 

But those are all teachable skills he can work on with a Wizards team presumably more invested in his development than the perennial win-now Lakers. If Washington can unlock Kuzma’s true potential as a two-way wing, the Westbrook trade will look even better considering they got another reliable two-way wing in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as well.

Other LA reclamation projects

Thomas Bryant

Josh Hart

Ivica Zubac

Larry Nance Jr.

Moe Wagner

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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