When Anthony Davis stated openly that he would prefer not to play center on a regular basis, much was made about what that would do to the attempted modernization of the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA is all about pace and space at this point and will be for the foreseeable future, so why not stick with that concept and try to fight math?
As evidenced by a few matchups this preseason with the hilariously undersized and undermanned Golden State Warriors, though, the Lakers’ size with Davis at power forward, LeBron James at small forward and JaVale McGee at center has its benefits, too. Just ask James, himself.
“Defensively is where we set our mark, and then everything else kind of falls into place. We have a great defensive lineup to start the game. We have guys that complement each other on the offensive end. It’s my job to put guys in a position to push the pace and get guys open looks. Get AD the ball where he wants it, and then find my shooters like AB and DG. It worked well for us tonight,” he said after Wednesday’s drubbing of Golden State.
Lock it in, everyone. We might just have escaped Rajon Rondo, starting point guard.
(Important note: If I just jinxed this, you never read that last sentence. Cool? Cool)
The real test is going to be how this team looks against, well, any team other than this specific iteration of the Warriors. Can McGee handle perimeter defensive rotations? Will James’ focus be as narrowed in consistently as it’s been in the shorter minutes he’s played this preseason? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” is Davis great enough on defense to make up for that?
If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, well, there are plenty.
Let’s start with McGee. He’s agile enough to hold his own on the perimeter and long enough to disrupt shots even on plays where the offensive player gets a step on him. There will obviously still be stretches where you have to take him out in favor of Davis at the five (and most of the Lakers’ best lineups will still likely feature such a look), but against most traditional bigs, he’ll be perfectly fine.
On the night James was asked about this lineup, the Lakers played Golden State without Steph Curry, so that should probably be mentioned. As a result, the slower-footed D’Angelo Russell wasn’t able to take advantage of Avery Bradley’s overly-aggressive style of defending at the point of attack. As a result, you had fewer straight-line drives to the basket right at the beginning of possessions, and the Lakers spent less time chasing ball movement. That was easily Bradley’s best game of the preseason.
Green, James, and obviously Davis are going to be fine to great defensively, so there isn’t much to address there.
Another important thing to consider is what the Lakers’ size up front will do to opposing teams’ transition games. As previously mentioned, McGee isn’t slow, and thus shouldn’t get beat down the court by the centers he’ll be matched up against.
It’s also impossible to run consistently when you’re taking the ball out of the net, and that group (especially if Bradley hits his open looks) will score plenty. And it isn’t like teams can leak out with offensive rebounding threats like McGee, Davis and James. McGee especially should feast on put-back dunks.
Again, there will be nights where this group needs to be swapped out in favor of a more modern group. Bradley’s shot might not be falling, or the other team might be so hot from deep that McGee can’t play. There are a multitude of factors that go into lineups working or not, but at least theoretically and in practice this preseason, James’ analysis of this group is on-point.
At the very least, this starting lineup should have done plenty to dissuade head coach
LeBron James Frank Vogel from inserting Rondo into it. At the very least, that’s reason to be hopeful.