Lakers experiment with Kyle Kuzma at center during training camp, and it might just work
After losing Brook Lopez and Julius Randle in the summer, the team is thin in the frontcourt
The Los Angeles Lakers' offseason was defined by their additions -- specifically LeBron James, who inked a four-year deal with the club. But while that was clearly the biggest move, they did also lose a few solid players as well, with Brook Lopez and Julius Randle leaving in free agency.
While adding LeBron was, of course, worth it, the losses of Lopez and Randle have left L.A. a bit thin in the frontcourt. As training camp opened, JaVale McGee looks to be the starting center, with only Ivica Zubac and rookie Moritz Wagner behind him. With the lack of experience and talent in the frontcourt, the Lakers can be expected to play plenty of small-ball.
LeBron James will likely take plenty of minutes at the five, but as they look to figure out their rotations, the Lakers are trying out another option for a small-ball center: Kyle Kuzma. The 6-foot-9 Kuzma has apparently been spending some time at the position during training camp. Via ESPN:
The Los Angeles Lakers are trying different small-ball lineups in training camp, including utilizing the 6-foot-9 Kuzma at the 5. The second-year forward is learning how to play the position, something he has done only in high school.
"It's going well, you know, picking it up," Kuzma said after Lakers practice on Friday. "I have never really played the five before. And I think it will be good for us, having a small-ball unit, getting out and running and gunning."
"It's all right," Walton added of what he has thought of trying Kuzma at center so far. "He's been great. He's been working on his game, but coverages and things like that are obviously different from the five spot. He's been good. It hasn't been a ton of reps, but we've had him out there trying to see if it could possibly work."
With their lack of depth at the five, and the league getting smaller and smaller every season, it's obvious to see why the Lakers would want to experiment with Kuzma playing small-ball center. Given his abilities on the offensive end, where he can space the floor -- he shot over 36 percent from 3 last season -- and score in isolation, such lineups could be really tough for opponents to stop. Especially considering the Lakers now have LeBron James running the show.
It's on the defensive end where the transition would be most challenging for Kuzma. Yes, he was a rookie last season, but even still he struggled defensively. It's hard enough for an offensive-minded young player to improve on defense at this level, but especially when you're being asked to do so at a new position. And perhaps the most important defensive position on the floor.
Kuzma would be required to not only battle with opposing big men down low and navigate pick-and-rolls, but be the hub of the defense, constantly communicating what's going on to his teammates. That will certainly be a big challenge.
With how powerful the lineups with Kuzma playing small-ball five could potentially be on the offensive end, it might just be worth it for the Lakers to run them out there once in a while and just try to outscore people. Especially early on, though, there will likely be a sharp learning curve if they try this out during the regular season.
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