Kyle Kuzma has played at least 33 minutes in the three games the Los Angeles Lakers have been without Brandon Ingram, who’s recovering from a groin strain suffered late last week. Against the Orlando Magic, Kuzma logged 42 minutes, good for his second-highest total this season.
That coincided with the rookie producing his first 20-point game since scoring 23 against the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 14. Aside from the increased minutes, Kuzma’s production — he also had 10 rebounds and three steals — is a byproduct of becoming more familiar with his new position.
“It’s a little different,” he said of playing small forward. “I still think sometimes I’m playing the four, so I go to one spot and have to snap out of it. Our offense is kind of interchangeable in a sense. It’s just knowing where you’ve got to be.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton mentioned the combination of newcomers and players filling different roles has contributed to the offense growing stagnant of late. “Guys are in different spots and we try to call a play, it takes eight or nine seconds for some people to explain to other people were they’re supposed to be,” Walton said.
Although there are some growing pains, Kuzma is enjoying how he’s being deployed in place of Ingram, in part because of the demand on defense. “It’s fun. I like playing the three,” Kuzma said. “Get to handle the ball a little bit more, play pick-and-roll, and it’s really a challenge to guard people, so I’m more locked in defensively.”
Even while Kuzma was scoring at a prolific rate earlier this season, he and Walton regularly mentioned defense as an area that needed improvement. And playing small forward requires Kuzma to change his strategy and action on screens.
When playing power forward, he’s often guarding the screener. As a small forward, Kuzma is more times on the ball handler. “You’ve got to fight over screens, then you’re the one telling the big when to get back. Everything changes from the ‘three’ to the ‘four,’” Walton explained.
As Kuzma becomes more comfortable with his new, albeit likely temporary position, he’ll gladly accept the minutes that it brings.
“I mean, it’s better than playing 20 off the bench,” he said. “So, I’m cool with it.”