Lakers News: Latest on Lonzo Ball's Recovery, Positionless Approach and More

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 2, 2018

Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball is seen during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Monday, March 26, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

LeBron James has scored (preseason) points for the Los Angeles Lakers. So have Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and Michael Beasley.

In other words, the 2018-19 Lakers are officially a thing. And for better or worse, they're likely a front-page thing from now until the end of the season.

While no shortage of interesting takeaways came out of L.A.'s preseason debut, we're here to examine the latest news reports on injury updates and on-court strategies.

                    

Lonzo Ball Still Sitting

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers works out with a trainer before a preseason game against the Denver Nuggets at Valley View Casino Center on September 30, 2018 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Image
Harry How/Getty Images

With a patient approach to Ball's recovery from offseason knee surgery, the Lakers held their prized prospect out of their preseason opener.

They'll do the same when the Lakers and Denver Nuggets lock horns again Tuesday night:

This is the smart way for the Lakers to play this. Unless they're as anxious as us to see what happens when Ball and James share the floor, there's no reason to rush Ball. Besides, L.A. fans can take solace in the fact he's reportedly impressing behind closed doors.

"His bounce is there. His speed is there," James said, per Bill Oram of The Athletic. "So I don't even know if he even had surgery."

This is probably about getting Ball properly conditioned and comfortable before exposing him to an even greater level of scrutiny. While all eyes were on him already last season, his spotlight will only get brighter with James now alongside him and Rondo potentially pushing him in a full-fledged competition.

If Ball comes out rusty, his critics are going to pounce. There was so much focus on his erratic shooting last season many missed that he averaged 7.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals—marks only two other NBA freshmen have ever posted.

He's an elite prospect, and the Lakers are wise to treat him as such.

                      

Positionless Plans Put Kyle Kuzma at Center

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Denver Nuggets during a pre-season game on September 30, 2018 at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Kuzma last played center in high school, according to ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk, but he's preparing to log minutes as a small-ball 5 in the modern NBA.

If he can handle the position, the Lakers could play with better spacing—a critical need for James to maximize his impact—and even more speed. They plan on using the preseason to find out if last summer's 27th pick is up to the task.

"Offensively, it would be great for us if Kuz could handle that," Walton told reporters. "We could get out and fly and run and space the floor. But we don't know yet."

Kuzma and Michael Beasley both logged minutes at the 5 on Sunday. They're likely to keep seeing time there as the club seeks to maximize its versatility.

"We want to be a positionless team," James told reporters. "There's gonna be times when we're all playing different positions. I think that's going to be the benefit of our ball club."

While this isn't ground-breaking stuff, it does have a couple interesting elements to it.

First off, will James also be called upon to fill minutes at the 5? He's spent just one percent of his career there, and one can assume he'd want to avoid the physical toll it can take considering he's entering his 16th season in the Association.

Second, what will this mean for the more traditional centers on the roster? JaVale McGee is the early favorite to start, and he has proven effective as a quick-strike energizer. Rookie Moritz Wagner could potentially shoot his way onto the floor, but Ivica Zubac seems a likely candidate to get squeezed out. Unless L.A. needs his rebounding, he might not have enough contemporary qualities to crack the rotation.

                    

Moe Wagner Out for Preseason

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Mortiz Wagner #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers is seen talking to the media during media day at UCLA Health Training Center on September 24, 2018 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

Speaking of Wagner, the No. 25 pick will be playing catch up once the season starts.

He won't suit up this preseason, as he continues working his way back from a knee contusion suffered at summer league, per Lakers.com's Mike Trudell:

We'll have to wait and see what this means for Wagner's shot at playing meaningful minutes as a rookie.

If the Lakers are committed to small ball, maybe Wagner's prospects for playing time weren't great to begin with. Between Kuzma, James and Beasley, this club isn't short on options who can potentially spread the floor and switch assignments on defense.

Then again, Wagner's game might allow L.A. to have some of the benefits of small ball without sacrificing size. He's a great shooter for his size (39.4 percent from three the last two seasons at Michigan), he can attack a little off the dribble and he's improving as a rebounder. That said, he's lacking in athleticism and defensive versatility, so he's more of a stretch big than a small-ball one.

Only the Lakers know what they have planned for their rookie, and the rest of us won't see it before the regular season tips.

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