The Los Angeles Lakers will have to get creative at the center position after failing to add a surefire starting-caliber five via the draft or free agency this summer, and one option head coach Luke Walton has been exploring is an unorthodox one: Playing Kyle Kuzma center.
Following practice on Friday, Kuzma confirmed that he has been featured at the five in some lineups during the team’s scrimmages.
“I’ve been playing center a little bit in training camp and it’s been going well,” Kuzma said. “I’m picking it up. I’ve never really played the five before but I think it will be good for us, having a small-ball unit, running and gunning.”
“It’s a work in progress but I think it will be great for us as time comes.”
Per basketball-reference.com, Kuzma spent just one percent of his rookie season at the center position, compared to 79 percent at power forward and 20 percent at small forward.
However, knowing there was a strong possibility he could see some playing time at the five this year, the 23-year-old watched film of how fives have to call out pick and rolls and screens, quarterbacking the defense from around the rim as the final blockade between opponents and the rim.
“You’ve got to be the anchor of the defense,” Kuzma said. “Watching that film has really helped in that area. Just trying to be that anchor when I’m playing the five in training camp.”
But while Kuzma might be prepared to take on the challenge of playing center, Walton said that the Lakers are in the very early stages of experimenting with lineups.
“He’s been great. He’s competing, he’s working on his game but, you know, coverages and things like that are obviously different from the five spot. But 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,” Walton said.
In order for Kuzma to be successful playing center, he has to improve his interior game on both ends of the floor. Kuzma believes that the strength he added in the offseason has already helped him improve in that regard.
“When I’m hitting guys on offense in the post, when I’m guarding guys and beating them to to a spot, taking blows. Seeing those things, I really see it translate from the weight room to the floor,” Kuzma said.
It sounds like things are still very much a work in progress, but this just confirms that the Lakers won’t be married to any one person as their undersized center. Whether it’s LeBron James, Micheal Beasley or Kyle Kuzma, Walton won’t be afraid to go small.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.