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Kyle Kuzma said he knocked off rust during the preseason

Kyle Kuzma said he hadn’t played much basketball before the preseason and felt like he got better the more he played. The Lakers need him to be right.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma came into training camp and the preseason with as much if not more hype than any of the Los Angeles Lakers. All summer, just about anyone given the opportunity spoke at length about how much growth Kuzma had shown, but when games started, his production didn't quite measure up to the hype.

Kuzma had an explanation for that, as he told reporters on Spectrum Sportsnet:

“I felt like I got a lot of rust off. I haven’t really played since April and for me I think I progressed every single game getting back into physical shape, and mental shape as well.”

His performance over the course of preseason back this theory of his up. In the Lakers’ first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kuzma shot a mere 33 percent from the field (7-21). In the four games after that, his shooting jumped up to 46 percent (25-54).

These are all obviously small sample sizes and I could have broken down the split differently (half and half, for example), but I went with the first two games because of the matchup issues Denver gave the Lakers. Between Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee, Denver has a huge frontline. You probably could not have found a tougher team for Kuzma to be introduced to defending the interior against. Having to body those guys took a very obvious toll on Kuzma, for a couple of reasons.

First off, Kuzma’s technique or approach to dealing with Denver’s size wasn’t great. He spent way too much time trying to muscle those guys and as a result, didn’t seem to have any legs on the other end. The other teams the Lakers played over the course of preseason presented easier matchups down low and it seemed like he tweaked his approach to utilize his quickness (something teammate JaVale McGee recommended) rather than get pushed around on defense.

Questions still remain about whether Kuzma as a small-ball five is ever going to work, but if what he says is true and he’ll get better as he gets into better shape or more accustomed to the toll playing inside takes, maybe things will work out. If it continues to be too much, Luke Walton might have to rethink his rotation, and for any advantage to be gained, Kuzma will have to be effective enough on offense to make up for the bumps he’ll take on defense.

A more traditional big seems like the safer move for now, but as Kuzma says, this experiment is going to take time.

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