EL SEGUNDO — Frank Vogel may not have gotten to coach Kyle Kuzma much yet — the third-year Los Angeles Lakers forward has missed all of training camp so far with a stress reaction in his left foot — but he already likes what he sees from one of his youngest players.
“He’s just a pleasure to be around. He’s everything you want your young players — and really all of your players — to represent from an attitude standpoint. He’s very mature, he’s focused, he’s all about the work, and his attitude is a 10 out of 10,” Vogel said with a smile when asked what he’d learned about Kuzma so far after the Lakers’ fifth day of training camp.
“When you have all those things and the physical abilities that he has, you know he’s got some serious potential and is really going to develop into a great player.”
The qualities Vogel mentions are the types of things that make basketball people like Kuzma so much more than most of the basketball internet seems to. Say what you will about his style of play or efficiency — which are obviously important qualities and shouldn’t be entirely dismissed — but Kuzma has earned the respect of people with the Lakers, Team USA and around the NBA with how committed he is and how hard he works to get better.
Now, whether or not those qualities eventually allow Kuzma to live up to the hype he’s received thus far, or to the billing of being the only Lakers young player to make it through the Anthony Davis trade saga remains to be seen, but Vogel so quickly noticing the same things about Kuzma that so many others have at the very least lends his more impressive work-ethic-related traits further legitimacy.
Other notes from day five of training camp
We got to watch a lot more of the team scrimmaging than ever before
The Lakers were simulating late-game scenarios for their scrimmages today, with Vogel testing out a potential closing lineup of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley — aka a lineup with LeBron James at point guard and Anthony Davis at center — on the purple team against a Jason Kidd-coached gray team of DeVontae Cacok, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and Troy Daniels.
Vogel threw two minutes on the clock and started the purple team down by three to simulate a crunch-time situation, and the game got chippy enough that if you squinted you might have thought the outcome actually mattered. Players on both sides were testing the referees brought in for the day, with countless protested calls, Rondo trying to get James in trouble for shoving, and James trying to get Rondo penalized for leaving the area during his own free-throws.
Our own Pete Zayas edited some footage of what we got to watch for the Laker Film Room YouTube channel.
Rondo was not much of a standout individually, but he got the last laugh in the end with a veteran play. After James’ heroic clutch three to tie the game in the final seconds, the gray team eventually won the scrimmage on Rondo’s free-throws after he drew a foul on the other end.
After practice, Rondo explained why he thinks preparing for crunch time with simulated scrimmages like Thursday’s are important.
“As a team you want to be put in those situations before it happens in a real game. When it gets into a game, it’s kind of second-nature. You’ve done it, you’ve rehearsed it, so there is nothing to get too complicated about,” Rondo said.
How much of a ballhandling burden will LeBron bear?
With James serving as the “point guard” during that scrimmage, the natural question arose several times after practice: How often will James be serving as the primary ballhandler for this team?
On a roster with Rondo as the main other traditional playmaker, the answer might be quite a lot. James said he’s fine playing on or off-ball, while Vogel suggested he wanted to stagger James and Rondo, meaning that James would likely bear most of the playmaking burden when he’s on the floor for the team.
Now, that may be something James has done his whole career, but as he ages, could it be too taxing for him?
“No, because he has the green light to defer at any point throughout the game and at any point throughout the season,” Vogel said after practice. “As he’s done throughout his career, he’ll be the primary playmaker, and if he’s handled it three or four straight times and is winded, he can defer and give it to somebody else to bring it up.”
As far as who will be bringing the ball down when James does decide to take those breaks, Vogel had an answer for that too.
“The great thing is that we have wings that can initiate offense, and we also play through Anthony Davis at the top,” Vogel said. “His skillset is so ridiculously versatile that we can play through him up there as well.”
Maybe that’s true, but Davis has never had a huge playmaking responsibility before, so it will be interesting to see if this is what results in Caruso getting extra playing time to assist James during those times he needs to take a step-back — as Vogel seemed to be teasing with his closing practice lineup — or what other potential solutions the Lakers will try to avoid wearing James down with unnecessary extra creation tasks.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.