After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a devastating ACL tear, the Los Angeles Lakers are as thin as it gets at the center position. They’re like the opposite of the New York Knicks.
The Lakers have two directions they can go in wake of Cousins’ injury:
- They can scour through the August free agent market for a servicable backup center, or
- They can exhaust all of the internal options.
If they went the latter route, the easiest—and arguably best—solution would be for Davis play the majority of his minutes at center. However, it doesn’t sound like the Lakers are too keen on playing their impending superstar free agent at a position he’s been outspoken about not wanting to play in the past:
In the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins news a high ranking member of the Lakers tells me that they do not expect nor do they want Anthony Davis to play “big minutes” at center this season @NBATV— Jared Greenberg (@JaredSGreenberg) August 16, 2019
Outside of Davis, the only true center on head coach Frank Vogel’s roster is JaVale McGee, so Vogel could be forced to play some players out of their natural positions if Davis doesn’t want to play center. Should things come to that, Kyle Kuzma told reporters that he’s willing to spend some time at center next season (via Lakers.com):
“I mean, potentially. You just never know. One thing that’s going to prepare me well is this experience with USA Basketball. They really like my versatility and how I can play the three, four and put me at the five a little bit. Last year I didn’t really have experience at that but now being with USA Basketball has allowed me to really work on things and if Vogel wants to do that, that’s what I’ve got to do.”
Kuzma spent some time at the center (roughly 15 percent of his minutes) at the start of last season, but the results didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
While the Lakers had a positive box plus-minus with Kuzma at center, they allowed 111.6 points per 100 possessions with the 6’9”, 206 lb. forward manning the five, according to Cleaning the Glass. As a result, they brought on Tyson Chandler to backup McGee just nine games into the regular season.
It’s possible that Kuzma’s improved defensively since then, as some have suggested he has this summer, but it’s hard to imagine he’s made the type of leap required for him to defend centers at a respectable level. That’s not a knock on Kuzma; it’s a testament to just how hard to it is to be a servicable two-way center in the NBA when you’re 6’9” or under.
Could the Lakers experiment with Kuzma at center next season? Sure, but they’re probably better of using their last roster spot on a backup center like Joakim Noah, Kenneth Faried or Salah Mejri.
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