Should Knicks look to trade for Kyle Kuzma?

Could Kyle Kuzma be an option for the Knicks?
Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma, center, is guarded b y Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.
AP Photo/Randall Benton

There has been a lot of trade speculation linking the Knicks to stars like Karl Anthony Towns, DeMar DeRozan, Kristaps Porzingis, and many more. 

However, what if the best option for the Knicks is Porzingis’ teammate in Washington, Kyle Kuzma?

The versatile forward has a $13 million player option with the Wizards going into next season, but he’s almost guaranteed to decline that. Once he does that, the Wizards will have to decide if they want to pony up to bring Kuzma back or if they want to continue a rebuild that will also include the likely trade of Bradley Beal in the coming weeks.

The Washington Wizards are able to offer Kuzma up to five years, $194 million if they give him a max contract, and no other team would be able to match that. However, it’s more likely that Kuzma hits free agency or the Wizards work out a sign-and-trade deal where they lock Kuzma into a contract and ship him off for some young talent.

Young talent and draft picks are certainly things that the Knicks have. 

So, first, would Kuzma be a fit for the Knicks?

The 27th pick in the 2017 NBA draft had a great year in 2023, averaging a career-high 21.2 points per game while also adding 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He was a main fixture in the Wizards’ offense with the second-highest usage on the team behind to Bradley Beal.

The Knicks’ two main priorities this offseason are floor spacing and perimeter defense, and Kuzma is not an ideal fit from either standpoint. 

This past season, he ranked 36th among all power forwards with a 2.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and was 28th among power forwards with a 0.5 defensive RAPTOR score. For comparison, Julius Randle ranked 17th in WAR at 5.4 but was 66th in defensive RAPTOR with a -1.3 score. 

So, he would be a major defensive upgrade over Randle at the power forward spot, but it’s unlikely that the Knicks are going to move on from Randle this offseason, which means adding Kuzma would mean that he plays small forward or Randle is used as a small-ball center, which Thibodeau has been hesitant to do in the past. 

Could Kyle Kuzma be an option for the Knicks?
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) shoots against Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in New York.AP Photo/John Minchillo

As far as three-point shooting, Kuzma wasn’t great this season, hitting just 33.3% of his shots. However, there is some intriguing upside when you look at where he hit his 160 three-pointers from. 

Kuzma shot 31-for-76 (40.8%) from the left corner and 19-for-47 (40.4%) from the right corner, so he is a particularly good shooter from corner threes. When you think of how often Obi Toppin was hanging out in the corner, launching corner threes, you could see how big an improvement Kuzma would be in that role. 

He would also add another solid rebounder as his 7.2 rebounds this year would have been third on the Knicks, and he averaged even more in 2021-22

The question is whose spot would Kuzma take and would he be willing to accept losing usage to guys like Randle and Jalen Brunson? 

Kuzma was a complementary option in his first four seasons with the Lakers, but he was younger and not quite the offensive weapon he is now, so he might not want to go back to being a third option. 

The Knicks would also likely need Kuzma to agree to be the sixth man unless Thibodeau was open to using Randle at center and the Knicks shipped off Mitchell Robinson.

Another option would be to trade Quentin Grimes to Washington as part of the deal. Grimes may not be in the Knicks’ long-term plans because he is due for an extension next season, and if the Knicks lock up Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart long-term, they may not feel they also need Grimes. That would allow RJ Barrett to play shooting guard, Kuzma to play small forward, and Randle to play power forward in a lineup that would struggle defensively. 

At the end of the day, Kuzma is an interesting fit for the Knicks, but unless they traded away either Randle or Robinson, it doesn’t seem like a move that makes much sense for 2023-24. 

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