The last time—and, really, the only time it has happened—came in August of 2020, during a meaningless game in the NBA’s Orlando restart, before the playoffs had begun. Anthony Davis took the floor then with Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Quinn Cook, three wings and a point guard. That meant that Davis was starting a game for the Lakers at center.
It has not happened since. Well, not until Sunday against Houston.
For the first time in a game that really mattered, Davis started a game at center for the Lakers, netting 16 points and 13 rebounds in a workmanlike win over the lowly Rockets. He started at center again in the following game, Tuesday’s back-to-back win over Houston. The big question now, though, is whether Davis will agree to be the team’s primary center, something he has resisted doing for the entirety of his career.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the matchup against the undersize Rockets would be a good chance to try out a smallball lineup, with LeBron James at the power forward spot, Avery Bradley and Kent Bazemore on the wings and Russell Westbrook at point guard. But he later said it is not permanent.
“We decided (Saturday), you know, we’ve been talking about at certain points in the season to explore our roster flexibility, and the way Houston plays, it seemed like a good opportunity to just look at that,” Vogel said. “I also liked the way we finished the fourth quarter against Cleveland having Baze and Avery out there guarding the other two team’s best perimeter players and AD at the five. So, it’s just something we want to look at as a starting group.”
Davis Has Resisted Playing Center His Whole Career
Davis has always seen himself as a power forward and has, both in New Orleans and in Los Angeles, resisted calls to have him play center. Last year, the Lakers flooded the roster with big men, including starters Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond, but also backup Montrezl Harrell. That meant Davis not only did not start at center, but rarely played there at all—only 10% of his possessions came at center, according to Basketball-Reference.
He played more center during his first Lakers season, about 40% of his possessions. But JaVale McGee was the primary starter for that team.
Davis has said he is willing to play more center for this Lakers team, something that could become a necessity as DeAndre Jordan struggles to fill in the starting role. Jordan’s age (33) has sapped his defensive ability and he is extremely limited offensively. He had started the first six games of the season for the Lakers.
But Davis said on Lakers media day that he anticipated getting more minutes in the middle. It just took a couple of weeks to come to fruition.
“There was the expectation and that was discussed, and I expect to play center,” Davis told reporters. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Me and Frank talked about it a couple of times and that’s the plan. Right now, nothing is set in stone but we want to see what that looks like, and I’m comfortable with that. Obviously, there’s times where Dwight (Howard) or (Jordan) might get the start at center depending on games, but for the most part, I think the plan is to go with me playing center.”
Vogel Says Big Lineups Will Return, Eventually
For Lakers fans who have celebrated the reduction in roles of the Lakers aging and past-their-prime centers, there should be some warning: Jordan and Howard have not been informed that they will be bumped from the rotation or anything of the sort.
“Nope, they know that we have been at our best the last couple of years being a hybrid unit,” Vogel said on Tuesday. “Sometimes AD plays the 5, sometimes he’s at the 4. They both knew that when they signed here, and the whole mindset of our whole group is that we’re trying to win a championship this year, and whatever sacrifice is required, everybody is all in.
“It is one of those things where I’ll say that this (starting lineup) is just something that we’re looking at right now, but we do intend to start big again soon.”