Lakers’ Radical Lineup Tinkering Could Force Star to be Benched: Insider

Dwight Howard, left, of the Lakers

Getty Dwight Howard, left, of the Lakers

Credit Lakers coach Frank Vogel with one thing: He’s trying. As much as Vogel has taken criticism here in the early NBA season for the Lakers’ overall failures, the coach has spent the first 22 games doing some nonstop tinkering, trying different player combinations to see what works best.

And while fans always want more, Vogel has already taken a bold step that could cause some controversy within the team—he’s angled to remove big man Dwight Howard from the rotation altogether.

That was pointed out by ESPN’s Lakers beat reporter Dave McMenamin on the Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe. Vogel has stuck with center DeAndre Jordan, mostly, in the starting five, but increasingly he seems amenable to going with only one center over the course of a game. That’s Jordan, which means Howard will sit, as he did on Sunday against Detroit.

“Austin Reaves came back from a hamstring injury,” McMenamin said. “It gives Frank kind of a viable excuse to only play one center. You saw, in Austin Reaves’ return, you didn’t see any minutes for Dwight Howard, it was purely DeAndre Jordan in there. It’s going to be really tough to continue to play two centers and find the optimum identity for this team.”

But there is something more radical yet that Vogel seems open to trying.


LeBron at Center Would Cost Dwight Howard

That was the next point that McMenamin got to—the Lakers have been using LeBron James, increasingly, at the center spot. That’s significant because James has only rarely ever played center in his career. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he has done it only 1% of the time in his 19 seasons.

James has not done it all in his last two years in L.A.

“You’ve also seen LeBron get some minutes at center,” McMenamin said, teeing up Lowe, who pointed out that the Lakers have been quite good, statistically, with James in the middle.

“Plus-19 in 32 minutes for the season with LeBron at center, 123 offensive rating, 106 defensive rating,” Lowe said. “I think this is something they’re just going to have to use. I think it’s so effective and so good, not just for LeBron but especially for Russ. It mimics that Houston setup where they took the centers out and just said, ‘Hey Russ—’ Russ is still a good iso player, if he can just drive into his guy and there’s no one around the basket, it’s the kind of accommodation you have to make for him.”


LeBron James at Center Paves the Way for Russell Westbrook

Indeed, playing James at center could be a key to unlocking Westbrook’s offense. As Lowe referenced, Westbrook excelled two seasons ago in Houston when the Rockets got rid of their center altogether and went with a truly small lineup—6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker was their center. It gave Westbrook the needed space to attack the rim.


HIGHLIGHTS | Russell Westbrook (25 pts, 9 ast, 6 reb) vs Detroit PistonsSubscribe for the latest Lakers' content: youtube.com/channel/UC8CSt-oVqy8pUAoKSApTxQw Follow us on Facebook: facebook.com/lakers Follow us on Instagram: instagram.com/lakers/ Follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/Lakers Get the Lakers app: nba.com/lakers/multimedia…2021-11-29T05:30:20Z

Westbrook averaged 27.2 points on a career-high 47.2% shooting that season. He took, incredibly, 41.5% of his shots from within three feet of the basket, meaning he was constantly attacking. By comparison, he is taking 30.2% of his shots within three feet thus far with the Lakers.

“I like that look, and I think given the options that they have and what it does for Russ, I think it is something they should make part of their rotation almost every game,” Lowe said.

It would be good for Russ. For Dwight? Not so much.

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