Due to injuries and the Omicron variant, the Los Angeles Lakers — like a lot of teams around the NBA — have had to use a variety of lineup combinations through the first half of the season. Until very recently, though, Frank Vogel has, more often than not, started a traditional, seven-foot, defensive-minded center.
With Anthony Davis on the shelf with an MCL injury, however, the coach has taken the opportunity to experiment with his frontcourt mix. Since New Year’s Eve, the Lakers have gone small, shifting LeBron James over to the pivot. In the wake of that switch, Vogel’s crew has been a different team.
At the least, they’ve been good enough to warrant extending the experiment.
Speaking to the media at Tuesday’s practice, Vogel teased his lineup plans for when Davis returns to the floor. And, from the looks of it, it may be a while before we see DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard — who have combined to start 24 games at center for LA this season — playing regular minutes again.
Vogel Hints at More ‘Small’ Ball
The Lakers coach didn’t mince words about who’s going to be playing where once AD is back.
“Well, I think you’re going to see Anthony playing a lot at the five and, when Anthony’s out, we have the lineups that we’ve been playing right now with ‘Bron basically playing point center,” Vogel revealed when asked how Davis’ return would impact his strategy.
“It’s a direction that I think we’re going to land with this group towards the second half of the season and one we’re seeing obvious benefits for right now that we feel like we’re gonna be even more enhanced when Anthony comes back.”
Since LeBron moved to the center spot, the Lakers have won four of their last five games while scoring a league-best 122.7 points per 100 possessions. So, keeping quicker, more versatile offensive players — who also happen to be slightly smaller — in the middle feels like a prudent decision.
Moreover, as a 6-foot-10 rim protector who can also score at an elite level from anywhere on the court — be it at the basket or on the perimeter — Davis might even be the ideal starting center for the league as it is now.
He has made it crystal clear that his preference is to play in the four spot, and the Lakers have been content to surround him with players like Jordan, Howard, Marc Gasol, JaVale McGee and so on. If the Lakers can continue to play this way with smaller lineups, though, he’ll have to embrace the five role.
What Does This Mean for the Other Bigs?
It was less than a week ago that Howard admitted that getting put on the backburner by Vogel so frequently had been difficult to cope with. And he seemed to indicate that Jordan was experiencing some of those feelings as well.
“That can be tough for anyone. I know DJ, for me and him, it’s been kind of like a roller coaster all season. So we just try to provide some type of energy and synergy,” Howard said.
“Making sure our level of energy is pretty high whether we’re on the floor, on the bench, or in the locker room. Just trying to maintain a level of focus, because it can be tough. And it is tough at times.”
If Vogel is intent on going with Davis and James as his centers, that roller coaster is about to become all valleys and no peaks. It leads one to wonder how they’ll handle a world where they’re not playing. Moreover, it raises questions about what the Lakers plan to do with them in the coming weeks.
There have been rumblings that Jordan could get bought out for some time now. If AD and LeBron is the move in the middle, the time may have come for GM Rob Pelinka to pull the trigger there or work whatever trade he can with Jordan and/or Howard.