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Kyle Kuzma says leaving Lakers for Wizards has been great ‘because I’m not looking over my shoulder’

A year away from the Lakers has given Kyle Kuzma a refreshed perspective on basketball and playing without expectations.

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Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma’s journey with the Los Angeles Lakers was a winding one. After storming onto the scene as a steal of a first-round pick, Kuzma’s first two seasons in Los Angeles eventually gave way to statistically underwhelming campaigns where he still was a solid role player on a title-winning season.

But after two seasons mostly perceived as disappointing, Kuzma was included in the trade package that landed the Lakers Russell Westbrook. It was a move that freed Kuzma of many of the restraints applied on a Lakers team featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Unsurprisingly, the result has been improved statistical production, as Kuzma is averaging the second-most points per game in his career and has tied his career-best mark in field goal percentage. He’s also averaging a career-high in rebounds and assists, all coming on a career-high usage rate.

In total, though, a move to Washington has helped Kuzma revitalize his career. In a recent piece by Josh Robbins of The Athletic, Kuzma talked about life on the opposite coast, and how he’s able to play with a level of freedom he didn’t have in Los Angeles.

“It’s been a great change of pace for me, a change of scenery,” Kuzma said. “I did as much as I (could) to maximize (myself) when I was with my former team, with changing my role every single year for the betterment of the team and trying to fit in with great players. But here, it’s been a lot different, because I don’t necessarily have to do that. My role has changed here. If you think about the first 25 games, I was in a different type of role than I am now: more scoring and just doing more things with the ball. It’s just great to be in a situation where I can just be myself and do what I do, and not dummy myself down.

“It’s great, because I’m not looking over my shoulder. Every time I’m making a mistake, I’m not looking at my head coach. I can focus on the game. Obviously, I don’t want to make mistakes. But that’s a part of it when you’re growing. I’m 26, but I’m really growing.”

While Kuzma is having success with the Wizards, it’s in a role he never would have been afforded with the Lakers. A player who excels when given a lot of shots, the Lakers never could find the right balance of incorporating Kuzma into the offense with James and Davis.

Is it a coincidence that each season that Kuzma has been an above-average scorer, his teams have not been competitive? This season, Washington is 29-34 and, after a 10-3 start that prompted some WILD takes, have flamed out spectacularly this season, going just 19-31 in the 50 games since.

But somewhat ironically, it's actually Kuzma’s absence as a wing scorer and defender that has been a hole the Lakers have never replaced on the roster and, now, could sorely use a player like Kuzma. Even separated from the fact that Westbrook has failed miserably in Los Angeles, the Lakers have struggled to replace the production on both ends of the floor provided by Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Still, though, Kuzma helped deliver the Lakers a title, and was nothing but kind to the Lakers after his departure. It’s great to see him thriving in his new role in Washington, and hopefully it leads to another big payday for the longest-tenured Baby Laker down the road.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.