Heading into the 2018-19 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers only had three centers in JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Moritz Wagner. As McGee played well during the preseason, the same could not be said for Zubac, and Wagner unable to play due to a knee injury.
While LeBron James has played some small-ball center in recent seasons, Kyle Kuzma was tasked with the challenge of learning how to play a completely different position. To his credit, it was something he embraced.
There were some rough patches along the way and the Lakers have largely gone away from Kuzma at center even though he’s shown some overall improvement on the defensive end of the court.
Head coach Luke Walton praised the young forward, but believes he must take a crucial step in order to successfully play center, according to Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com:
“He’s talking a lot more, and that’s a big step for us,” Walton said. “Now we need him to not just talk, but put action behind that talk.”
At the risk of exhausting McGee, the Lakers capitalized on the Phoenix Suns buying out Tyson Chandler from the final year of his contract. He cleared waivers and promptly signed with the Lakers.
That’s allowed the team to rely on a tandem of McGee and Chandler at center, putting Kuzma back at his natural position.
While teams are embracing small-ball lineups more than ever, one of the concerns for the Lakers is rebounding. If they truly want their defense to ignite their fastbreak opportunities, it will require everyone rebounding instead of leaking out.
Kuzma did fare relatively well when defending Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. His ability to do so aided the Lakers’ efforts in preventing Gasol from taking advantage of pick-and-pop opportunities.