Lakers coach Luke Walton believes in positionless basketball, which doesn’t mean exactly what the word would suggest.
There are still designated positions among the five players in any given lineup, but within that construct, he wants his players to be able to shift between different wing positions and be able to guard anyone on the court.
It’s a luxury to have players who can do that. Injuries make it a necessity. In the Lakers’ past three games, Kyle Kuzma has filled in at small forward, rather than his usual power forward position, because Brandon Ingram has been out with a groin strain.
“It’s fun,” Kuzma said. “I like playing at 3 [small forward]. Get to handle the ball a little bit more, play pick and roll, and it’s really a challenge to really guard people. I’m more locked in defensively because I’ve never really guarded threes before now.”
Kuzma is clearly starting to figure it out. He had his best game playing small forward Wednesday, scoring 20 points with 10 rebounds.
The switch doesn’t come without challenges for Kuzma. He said the defensive challenge is the biggest one, but there’s also the basic challenge of undoing the habit of playing power forward.
Sometimes Kuzma momentarily forgets that he’s playing a different position.
“Sometimes I’m playing four, I just go to one spot, I snap out of it and [go to] the new spot,” Kuzma said. “Our offense is interchangeable in a sense, so just knowing where you’ve got to be.”
Walton thinks a little more time and experience at the small forward position will help Kuzma. For example, Kuzma is no longer in a position where he’s calling out coverages. Most of the time, he’s no longer the player setting screens.
“The good thing is, with the way they want to play, with the pace we want to play, a lot of what we try to get good at is playing in the chaos and randomness of games,” Walton said. “Whether you’re the three or the four, running for layups or running to the three-point line in transition, all of that’s still available.”
LAKERS UP NEXT
When: Friday, 6 p.m. PST
On air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: This is the first of two games the Lakers will play against the Nuggets in the next week. Denver (35-30) is one of the teams the Lakers (29-35) will have to leapfrog in order to sneak into the eighth spot for the playoffs.