The Los Angeles Lakers did not make a big investment in the center position in free agency this summer. Faced with limited cap space after acquiring Anthony Davis and signing Danny Green, the team signed JaVale McGee to a two-year deal worth approximately $4 million per season, and DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year deal worth around $3.5 million, meaning they were paying less than $10 million total for an entire spot in their lineup.
That was a bit of a misnomer considering that Davis was (and is) expected to play some center — especially during the postseason — but then resources got even tighter for the Lakers when Cousins went down with a (likely) season-ending ACL injury in August. In response, they signed Dwight Howard to a one-year, non-guaranteed, veteran’s minimum deal worth approximately $1.6 million, further reducing how much money they were putting into centers who could suit up for the team.
To the Lakers’ brain trust’s credit, such a lack of finances in the pivot hasn’t been obvious this season, as McGee and Howard have been incredible so far, ably holding down the center spot for almost the whole game while making less than $6 million a year combined. That’s been a remarkable development for the Lakers, and after the team beat the Miami Heat on Friday night, Frank Vogel lauded the contributions and commitment of his two seven-footers (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“Their chemistry together has been a big part in our early season success. Their willingness to accept the role that’s been laid out for them. Both of them are in a little bit unique roles, and they come in as a tag team and give us All-Star production at the center position between the two of them.
“That’s just part of what we’re trying to preach with this group... Those two supporting each other the way they are is a big part of our success this season.”
Vogel isn’t exaggerating. So far this year, Howard and McGee have teamed up to give the Lakers for 14 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while shooting a combined 66.9% from the field in 36.3 minutes per game.
If Howard and McGee were actually one player (which given that they only play 36.3 minutes per game in tandem, they may as well be), DwaVale McHoward would be tied for second in the NBA in field goal percentage and blocks, and rank fifth in the league in rebounds, according to NBA.com.
That is genuinely incredible production when considering how little the Lakers are spending on the center spot, something it was thought they would have to make up for by playing Davis at the five in spurts. So far that hasn’t been a necessity very often, as Howard and McGee have more than just sopped up minutes, they’ve thrived, which has allowed Davis to play center in a career-low 35% of his minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.
McGee and Howard so willingly accepting their roles — in conjunction with Vogel making them very aware of when they’re going to play and for how long — has seemingly allowed the two to expend all of their energy while on the floor, knowing exactly how all-out they can go in order to maintain a consistent effort level before heading to the bench for a breather.
Still, for two players with the pedigree of McGee and Howard, that isn’t always an easy sell, and Vogel deserves credit for getting them to buy in, just as Howard and McGee deserve all the praise they’re getting for doing whatever it takes (and playing whatever role they can) to help this team continue to pile up victories at a league-best pace. Howard and McGee won’t really get All-Star votes by virtue of not actually being able to Frankenstein themselves into a single player, but they deserve heaps of credit for giving the Lakers that type of production from the center position nonetheless.