Of all the changes the Los Angeles Lakers have made for this season, perhaps none is more aggressive than relying on Kyle Kuzma to play center in small-ball lineups. While Kuzma put an emphasis on improving defensively over the offseason, playing center brings a different set of challenges.
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There’s the component of defending players who are bigger, but more importantly is Kuzma needing to adjust to being an anchor as the last line of defense. The Lakers’ first two games of the season have been trying for the second-year forward.
The Houston Rockets attacked mismatches with Kuzma, who picked up four fouls and was a -14 in 25 minutes off the bench in the loss. “He’s got to be much better. He knows that,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said of Kuzma playing center.
“One, the technique. He’s a little happy feet; he likes to shuffle them. Two, he’s got to take it personal, which I think he does. He text me once the game was over and said, ‘That will never happen again.’ The wanting and the willing, and then the technique to do it, is all part of it.”
Walton acknowledged the Lakers are asking a lot of Kuzma, but again maintained the team is confident in his ability to shoulder the responsibility. “Second year in the league and we have him switching on the MVP and we have him in a deep drop, playing backup center. He’s got a lot of responsibility, but we feel like he can handle that, he’ll learn and get better from that.”
Part of the reason the Lakers believe — if not are hopeful — Kuzma can successfully fill the role of backup center is what it means for the team’s offense. “We feel he can really change the pace for us, spread the floor and get us out and running, which we’ve done a really nice job of,” Walton explained.
“That’s why we want him on the floor. But it only works if we can get stops. It’s a work in progress.”
Kuzma himself has admitted to his new position(s) being challenging, and it’s led to more attention to detail through watching film. Veterans Rajon Rondo, a noted film watcher, and center JaVale McGee have both served as sounding boards for him.