There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Anthony Davis has little-to-no interest in playing most of his minutes at center for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
For one thing, the list of players the team is checking out in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ injury would imply that they still want at least two full-time fives on the roster to limit the amount of time they need Davis to play center.
There is also the small matter that Davis came right out at his introductory press conference and laughed as he said “I like playing the four, I’m not even going to sugarcoat it. I like playing the four, I don’t really like playing the five.” A recent report from Jared Greenberg of NBA TV also suggested that the Lakers are in agreement with Davis, and “do not expect nor do they want Anthony Davis to play ‘big minutes’ at center this season.”
And tucked away in Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN’s story on the players the Lakers will work out this week, the always plugged-in reporter seemed to confirm that L.A. isn’t planning to push Davis to play a ton of minutes at his non-preferred position.
The Lakers have JaVale McGee and will try to cobble together a center rotation that will include Anthony Davis, although the organization would prefer that he play a majority of his minutes at power forward.
People are freaking out about this because a) it’s August and we need something to argue about and b) Davis is better at the five, but there are a few reasons this approach makes sense from both sides, and plenty of reasons not to worry just yet.
For one thing, Davis taking the wear-and-tear that comes with playing a bunch of minutes at center all season doesn’t behoove the Lakers or their new superstar, especially given Davis’ lengthy injury history. There is also the reality that Davis is a free agent at the end of the year, and while all indications seem to be that he’s planning to stay, Davis has declined to publicly commit to doing so just yet. Pushing him to play a position he doesn’t want to play more than he wants to play it may not benefit the Lakers in the short or long-term.
Still, this isn’t cause to fret. The semantics of all of this have been interesting. Wojnarowski says the Lakers want Davis to play the “majority” of his time at the four. Greenberg wrote that the Lakers didn’t expect “big minutes” out of Davis at the five.
Neither of those reports — or Davis’ own words — imply that he is unwilling to play any minutes at center. And while Davis may not want to call himself a center, but according to Basketball-Reference he has spent substantial time there over the last few years, playing 96% of his minutes at center last season, 51% two years ago and 64% three years ago.
That’s the majority of his time being played at center, so even if Davis does want to decrease from that type of minutes load at the five, barring a more precipitous than can be expected drop-off, we should expect Davis to at least spend a decent chunk of his floor time at his most effective position.
There is also the reality that while Davis saying he didn’t want to play center got most of the pub that day, he also admitted in his very next sentence that he would do so if need be.
“If it comes down to it, Coach, and you need me to play the five, I’ll play the five,” Davis told Vogel in front of reporters back at his introductory press conference back in July.
So does Davis want to spend a ton of time playing center this year? No. Will the Lakers push him to do so? Also no. Does that make some sense when looking at all the context? Probably. Does any of this mean Davis is unwilling to sacrifice and play the five when need be? It would appear not.
We’ll also see how or if Davis’ stance changes when the playoffs approach and there is more rest between games and tighter rotations. Until then, while this may cost the Lakers a few wins in the short-term, it isn’t really cause for concern long-term just yet.
Editor’s Note: This story originally included the wrong stats from Basketball-Reference, and was updated at 7:14 p.m. PT to reflect the correct ones.