Rookie Kuzma makes a push to be a starter

Los Angeles Times - - NFL WEEK 6 - By Ta­nia Gan­guli ta­nia.gan­guli@la­ Twit­ter: @tani­a­gan­guli

Lak­ers rookie Kyle Kuzma has turned him­self into a fan fa­vorite with his play this pre­sea­son.

But he’s done more than that.

Kuzma has forced him­self into the dis­cus­sion about the start­ing power for­ward po­si­tion — a dis­cus­sion that at one time in­cluded only Julius Ran­dle and Larry Nance Jr.

“It’s more than who’s play­ing bet­ter than the other two be­cause we gotta think about mak­ing the sec­ond unit solid and the threat to be able to score enough,” Lak­ers coach Luke Wal­ton said. “Who plays well with Brook [Lopez’s] shoot­ing in that first unit? There’s a lot of things other than who plays the best that goes into this, but we’re very happy with all three of them.”

Nance is en­ter­ing his third sea­son and came off the bench to an­chor the Lak­ers’ sec­ond unit last year.

Ran­dle is en­ter­ing the fourth and fi­nal sea­son on his rookie con­tract.

He was the sev­enth pick in 2014 and started at power for­ward last sea­son.

That Ran­dle is even in such a com­pe­ti­tion at this point in his ca­reer mo­ti­vates him, Wal­ton thinks.

“But he’s us­ing it to play with an edge,” Wal­ton said. “That’s what com­pe­ti­tion’s sup­posed to do, bring the best out of you and I think he’s re­ally step­ping his game up with that hap­pen­ing.”

Nance in­sists that he does not care who starts but he en­joys the com­pe­ti­tion.

Nance and Ran­dle have both got­ten starts this pre­sea­son, but lately the coach­ing staff has been forced to con­sider Kuzma in that role.

As a rookie he has some raw qual­i­ties, but his shoot­ing far ex­ceeds that of his com­peti­tors.

Kuzma has av­er­aged 19.2 points a game in the pre­sea­son and is mak­ing 56.3% of his shots. His con­fi­dence in high-pres­sure sit­u­a­tions has im­pressed the Lak­ers.

“Who­ever ends up be­ing that po­si­tion for us, a young team that we have, we ex­pect there to be some lead­er­ship out of that spot,” Wal­ton said. “They’re go­ing to be play­ing mul­ti­ple po­si­tions. It’s not just go­ing to be one unit.

“So they’re gonna have to be open and will­ing to do mul­ti­ple things. There’ll be times that Julius might be play­ing backup [cen­ter] and Kuz at the [power for­ward]. There’s times that Larry might be backup [cen­ter], Julius at [power for­ward] and Kuz at [small for­ward].”

Ball nears re­turn When the in­jury first hap­pened, Lonzo Ball as­sumed his sprained an­kle was no big deal. The morn­ing af­ter the in­jury, he woke up to swelling that told him oth­er­wise. “It got fat and that is what set me back a lit­tle bit,” Ball said.

Ball is ques­tion­able for the Lak­ers’ pre­sea­son fi­nale against the Clip­pers on Fri­day.

He went through prac­tice on Thurs­day, do­ing the most ex­ten­sive work he has done since suf­fer­ing the in­jury.

“A lot of it will de­pend on how he feels when he wakes up,” Wal­ton said. “I’m sure he’s go­ing to be sore later to­day. We’ll see if there’s any swelling in the morn­ing. … He looked early on like he was fa­vor­ing it a lit­tle bit and then as he kind of re­laxed and started play­ing, it re­ally looked like he started to move a lot bet­ter.”

Ball par­tic­i­pated in all of Thurs­day’s prac­tice ex­cept their five-on-five drills to­ward the end of prac­tice. If Ball’s an­kle feels well enough Fri­day morn­ing, Wal­ton will put him through a scrim­mage af­ter Fri­day’s shootaround.

Ball hasn’t played since the Lak­ers’ first two pre­sea­son games. He suf­fered the an­kle in­jury Oct. 2 against the Den­ver Nuggets af­ter block­ing a shot by Nuggets guard Em­manuel Mu­diay. Ball came down awk­wardly on Mu­diay’s an­kle. He re­turned to the game af­ter the in­jury, hop­ing that would help the heal­ing process.

Ball worked with Lak­ers as­sis­tant coach Miles Si­mon be­fore Tues­day’s game at Sta­ples Cen­ter.

“That was the first time I got on the court since I got hurt, so I re­ally didn’t take it hard at all,” Ball said. “It was pretty light. Just lit­tle move­ments here and there so it re­ally didn’t af­fect me the next day and came back and got my treat­ment and ev­ery­thing was cool.”

He did it again be­fore Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice but didn’t par­tic­i­pate in that prac­tice.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Ball might have pushed his re­turn.

“My dad has coached me my whole life so you know it is not re­ally be­ing hurt with him,” Ball said. “So I usu­ally push it. Now it is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It is my job and stuff and we took pre­sea­son into ac­count and I am try­ing to get 100% and get out there.”


The Lak­ers signed for­mer UCLA for­ward Travis Wear to a non-guar­an­teed con­tract. Wear is a can­di­date for a two-way con­tract that would al­low him to spend part of his time with the South Bay Lak­ers, the Lak­ers’ de­vel­op­ment league team, and part of it with the Lak­ers. Teams are al­lowed two such con­tracts. The Lak­ers also have Alex Caruso on one. … An­drew Bogut missed Thurs­day’s prac­tice. Bogut is deal­ing with a groin in­jury and missed the last pre­sea­son game.

Jae C. Hong As­so­ci­ated Press

KYLE KUZMA drives to the bas­ket in an ex­hi­bi­tion against Den­ver. He is av­er­ag­ing 19.2 points a game.

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