EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kyle Kuzma spent much of his summer bulking up, and now he's putting some of that muscle to work at center.
The Los Angeles Lakers are trying different small-ball lineups in training camp, including utilizing the 6-foot-9 Kuzma at the 5. The second-year forward is learning how to play the position, something he has done only in high school.
"It's going well, you know, picking it up," Kuzma said after Lakers practice on Friday. "I have never really played the five before. And I think it will be good for us, having a small-ball unit, getting out and running and gunning."
The Lakers signed JaVale McGee as a free agent and drafted Moritz Wagner in the first round to go with Ivica Zubac on the roster. But Magic Johnson, Lakers president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka believe the team's roster is flexible, deep and filled with plenty of length and height to allow coach Luke Walton to use a variety of players on the floor in today's increasingly position-less game.
Walton said entering camp that he had three to four different variations of small-ball lineups he wanted to look at. LeBron James is expected to see some minutes at center in certain situations, as well. Walton said James has been used "all over the court position-wise" and has been calling out defensive coverages from everywhere.
Last season, the Lakers had Julius Randle and Brook Lopez playing most of the minutes at center. Walton often used an undersized center with the 6-foot-9 Randle manning the position often because of Randle's ability to switch and defend multiple positions. Randle signed with New Orleans in free agency and the Lakers would love to find another player who can play center and be able to switch seamlessly into multiple positions.
Walton says Kuzma has that potential.
"Absolutely," Walton said of being able to see Kuzma defend multiple positions as a center one day. "One of the reasons why we are trying him out there is because we liked that versatility that Julius gave us with that ability.
"It's all right," Walton added of what he has thought of trying Kuzma at center so far. "He's been great. He's been working on his game, but coverages and things like that are obviously different from the five spot. 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."
One major thing Kuzma has learned and has been working on in camp is his communication. The Lakers have been working with him on his defense since his rookie season, and veterans like Rajon Rondo and James have shown the young Lakers prospects on the roster just how vital it is to constantly talk.
"You got to be the anchor of the defense, that 5 position calls out pick-and-rolls, screens," Kuzma said. "The 5 is usually around the rim so you see, you know, everything in that backcourt, everything. So watching film has really helped in that area of trying to be that type of anchor when I am playing the five."
Drafted 27th overall last season, Kuzma made the All-Rookie team after an impressive season averaging 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range. Kuzma added muscle in the offseason and worked hard on adding new weapons to his game.
"You can see it. You can feel it," Walton said of Kuzma's added strength. "You work out with him, he's much more of a man right now physically -- the way he runs the court, the way he's jumping and taking contact and all those things. He's worked extremely hard this offseason and it's showing up on court."
James likes what he has seen from Kuzma's mentality so far in camp.
"He wants to get better," James said. "He wants to be the best player he can be. He wants to be one of the best players in our league. He stated that. He worked his tail off this summer and has come in with the right mindset. I respect that."