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Laker Film Room: How LeBron James playing center might work for the Lakers

The Lakers shied away from pursuing big men in free agency, leaving LeBron James poised to play big minutes at the 5.

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If you visit the player page for Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James on Basketball Reference, you’ll see that he was listed as a shooting guard his rookie season, playing 74% of his minutes at the 2. That fact puts how much the game has changed in the last 15 years in perspective.

James is poised to play significant minutes at center is his debut season, after the Lakers let Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, and Thomas Bryant walk. Ivica Zubac is the lone returning big, joined by a rookie (Moe Wagner), and a nimble athlete who can’t play many minutes due to an asthmatic condition (JaVale McGee).

On the heels of Harrison’s piece on the same topic, I decided to dive into the haystack to look for the rare bits of footage where LeBron played the 5. Just 45 of his regular season minutes were there last year, and he’s only played approximately 1% of his minutes there in his entire career.

Let’s take a closer look at what I found.

James’ most substantive minutes at this spot have come against other small-ball lineups — most prominently Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors — which prompts questions about his ability to that against more traditional big men. To be perfectly honest, I still don’t really know, even after my film work. The sample size of LeBron playing center at all is small, and his minutes against conventional 5’s are minuscule and unworthy of having conclusions drawn from them.

All of the signs still point in the direction of LeBron getting significant minutes at the 5, and his ability to match-up with bigs or chase them off of the court entirely will likely determine what the Lakers can become this season. It’s one of the few unanswered questions remaining about a career that’s seen almost everything.

Still, the chance that it even might work is not bad for a former “shooting guard.”

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