(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Kuzma, Ball at Center Stage in Preseason Opener
ANAHEIM — A sold-out crowd roared at once as Lonzo Ball was introduced before the Lakers’ preseason opener — and they were almost as loud when Kyle Kuzma checked in midway through the first.
The two stars of the Lakers’ Summer League title team both found ways to impact the game in their preseason debut, although the Lakers fell to Minnesota, 108-99.
Ball — the NBA’s second-overall draft pick — was clearly the reason for many in attendance, as fans hollered whenever he touched the ball in the opening minutes.
“It felt great, especially when they called my name and the fans were cheering,” Ball said. “That’s what you dream about as a kid.”
While he struggled to hit shots, going just 2-of-9 for five points, he quietly put together a strong stat line with the rest of his game.
The 6-foot-6 point guard didn’t have one of his trademark highlight dimes, but he did rack up eight assists by make correct, simple passes. Ball also hauled in seven rebounds and added a pair of steals.
Moving forward, head coach Luke Walton would like for Ball to be more aggressive for his own shot, saying that teams and scouts will adjust their defenses based on how much he wants to make plays for others.
“Lonzo is so gifted as far as he always makes everyone on the court a threat,” Walton said. “He’s so unselfish that sometimes he has good shots for himself and he tries to get someone else a shot.”
Float game pic.twitter.com/UMGISCkwjG— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 1, 2017
Meanwhile, Kuzma had no trouble finding his own shots, as he sunk nine of his 12 attempts from the field.
At Summer League Kuzma showed the ability to catch fire at any given moment, and he certainly had the hot hand in the third quarter in Anaheim.
Midway through the frame, Kuzma made four consecutive shots in a 91-second span, as the Timberwolves couldn’t stop him from hitting a step-back jumper, floating bank shot and pair of driving hooks.
“Kuzma was just Kuzma again,” Walton said. “He’s a competitor and he finds a way.”
But the 27th draft pick also received some lessons courtesy of one of the league’s toughest players.
Kuzma has some muscle to him and brought down five rebounds, but he also got pushed out of position on a few occasions.
“I got to get a lot stronger,” Kuzma said. “Taj Gibson got me under the rim a couple of times.”
Walton liked the way that Kuzma hung with the opposition at both the three and four positions.
Now one of the keys for Kuzma will be adjusting to the shifting gears of the NBA.
“It’s not so much 100 miles per hour like you’d think it is,” Kuzma said. “It’s really pace, stop and go — I definitely learned a lot out there just in that one game.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Kyle Kuzma led the lakers in scoring with 19, but they fall to the Timberwolves 108-99 pic.twitter.com/kNQfGbwuHv— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 1, 2017
Work In Progress
The game was just as sloppy as Walton expected it to be after only four days of practice at training camp.
With Brook Lopez (back spasms) sidelined, Walton started both Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. at the four and five.
The small-ball lineup gave the Lakers added speed against a new-look Wolves squad boasting Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
However, the Lakers were unable to replicate their hot, 31-point first quarter, as Walton said that fatigue resulted in a stoppage of ball movement.
This resulted in settling for a barrage of 3-point attempts and a trickle of makes, as the Lakers shot just 5-of-30 from deep.
Nance grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, and Tyler Ennis had eight assists. … Shabazz Muhammad (22 points) and Gorgui Dieng (14 points, 12 rebounds) led Minnesota. … Honda Center was sold out by a crowd of 16,733 — the arena’s largest for a Lakers game since 2003.