Last summer, the Lakers were faced with a philosophical choice after acquiring Anthony Davis: Would they attempt to get Davis to fully commit to the center position and go small around him as much as possible? Or would they lean into Davis’ desire to play power forward, saving him physical wear and tear but limiting the amount of spacing they could have on the floor?
We all know which direction they went. The Lakers quickly re-signed JaVale McGee, and added DeMarcus Cousins soon after, fully committing to bully ball and being a big, physically imposing team. They stayed dedicated to that identity even after Cousins got injured in the offseason, signing Dwight Howard to take his place.
So far this season, it’s absolutely worked. With Davis and James playing the four and three, respectively, with McGee at center and Danny Green at the two, the Lakers had one of the biggest and rangiest starting lineups in the league. Even with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope taking the place of Avery Bradley as their primary point guard defender, the Lakers still likely have a size advantage at just about every position on the floor to start games.
In an era of small-ball, the Lakers zigged where others zagged, and as a result they’re big and exhausting to play against, with the fatigue they cause for opponents paying dividends as games go on over the course of the year. Now that Markieff Morris has cleared quarantine and rejoined his teammates — giving the Lakers another large and versatile forward — Frank Vogel thinks they can further lean into their best qualities.
“We want to be the most physical team in the NBA, and that’s the thing that strikes me first in terms of getting him back on the court,” Vogel said on his pregame Zoom call with the media on Thursday.
Vogel said that one of the first things that struck him about Morris when the team acquired him was how he immediately came in and started “knocking people around and showing his physicality.” He clearly liked the way Morris added to an existing strength over those first eight games and few weeks of practices.
And even beyond what Morris can bring to the Lakers on the floor, on a personal level, Vogel is just happy to have their final player that was missing return to the team.
“We’re really looking forward to having him back for us, but more importantly for his sake, him not being with the team for the last couple weeks has been a challenging thing,” Vogel said. “I’m just excited for him.”
Morris was only able to do some light shooting with the team on Thursday after barely clearing quarantine in time to make it to their pregame shootaround, and he sat out their first scrimmage. The team isn’t practicing on Friday, so he won’t be able to start getting his wind back then, either, and Vogel said the Lakers will bring him along slowly after he missed all of their camp so far.
Still, his return gives Los Angeles the final piece they were missing, and starts the clock on the whole team finally all getting readjusted to one another as things ramp back up. That’s good news for the Lakers, and probably a much less exciting development for opposing frontcourts.