Most people have assumed (probably correctly) that the Lakers are planning to have LeBron James be a key option as a small ball five, but it seems like the team might also look at Kyle Kuzma in those lineups during the preseason.
The Los Angeles Lakers obviously nailed the offseason by signing LeBron James. The team could’ve signed the rest of this website’s staff in the rest of free agency and still would have merited a B+ at worst for their summer. And Anthony plays like this.
That being said, the decision the front office made that looks the most questionable at the moment is how they completely punted on filling out the roster’s depth at center. Right now the Lakers have two players that have played significant NBA minutes at the five (JaVale McGee and Ivica Zubac), one rookie who appears like he’ll be most effective there (Moritz Wagner) and zero great options to fill out all 48 minutes per night at that position.
That is, unless they have a hidden plan waiting in the wings (pun intended, given where James has traditionally played). Or maybe a not so hidden one, since an anonymous Lakers executive has leaked that the team is excited to see LeBron as a small ball center in their version of a “death lineup.”
Still, there is no guarantee that James is ready or willing to play significant minutes at the five, something he’s never done before or shown a tone of willingness to do. But James also may not be the only option the Lakers are considering as a small ball five, as Ramona Shelburne reported on “ESPNLA Mornings with Keyshawn, Jorge & LZ” that the Lakers’ coaches might be considering giving Kyle Kuzma a shot to earn some minutes at backup center:
”The assumption was that would be LeBron (playing small ball five), and maybe it still will be, but I think there’s been some talk of maybe Kuzma doing that. Coming off the bench and playing that kind of a role in a small ball lineup. Obviously that’ll evolve throughout the preseason and we’ll see if that works at all.”
According to 82games.com, Kuzma played a whopping ... zero ... percent of his minutes at center last season. So that doesn’t exactly offer a lot of confidence this is going to work.
That said, Kuzma did show a few skills that would lend themselves to playing the five in his rookie campaign. Kuzma is tall, can shoot, and even did a decent job switching onto smaller players at the end of the year, all things the Lakers will ask their non-plodding centers to do in lineups with James.
Still, Kuzma hasn’t shown a ton of flashes of ability as a rim protector, or as a sound defender overall — a point he likely wouldn’t even dispute. But Kuzma works as hard as anyone, and if he’s been told to work on center skills over the offseason, or if he’s asked to give it a go, it’s a safe bet if it doesn’t work, it won’t be for lack of effort. It’s still not the cleanest schematic fit, but the Lakers also don’t have a ton of great options and it might not go as horribly as some would probably expect.
We’ll see if we get a look at it in the preseason.