The Lakers’ game of will they or won’t they with regards to their starting lineup and Anthony Davis’ spot at center looked to be heading in a positive direction after the last two games against the Houston Rockets.
With Dwight Howard sidelined due to neck stiffness, head coach Frank Vogel used that opportunity to experiment with Davis at center in the starting lineup for the first time this season in Sunday’s win. However, it does not sound like the Lakers are intending on keeping that lineup indefinitely moving forward.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, Vogel spoke about the fluid nature of the center position and whether it was difficult for their bigs to move in and out of the starting lineup. During his answer, he also revealed that the team plans on going back to starting big at some point, presumably when Howard returns.
“Nope, they (Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan) know that we have been at our best the last couple of years being a hybrid unit,” Vogel said. “Sometimes AD plays the 5, sometimes he’s at the 4. They both knew that when they signed here, and the whole mindset of our whole group is that we’re trying to win a championship this year, and whatever sacrifice is required, everybody is all in.
“It is one of those things where I’ll say that this (starting lineup) is just something that we’re looking at right now, but we do intend to start big again soon.”
There is at least some merit to the Lakers playing big this season. Entering Tuesday’s game, the Lakers had a net rating of -0.1 with Davis at center over 148 minutes. When Howard and Davis shared the floor, their net rating was +5.4 with a defensive rating of 90.9 in 23 minutes. DeAndre Jordan and Davis, though, had a -3.8 net rating in 82 minutes together.
So based on the numbers, it’s not been cut and dry that the Lakers are better with Davis at center so far. In fact, they’ve been at their best with Davis and Howard sharing the court, likely due to the familiarity between the two (and a rather small sample size).
However, the Lakers still project to be at their best when it matters with Davis at center. The benefits of a spaced floor offensively and extra perimeter players on defense ultimately outweigh the pros of starting bigger. Following Sunday’s game, Davis discussed the difference in starting small against Houston, and how the two lineups change things for him and the Lakers on the court.
“It gives me on the perimeter another lob threat with DJ and Dwight,” Davis said of the team’s bigger lineup. “We can be great defensively with the rim protection and letting our guards come back and get the rebounds and push with LeBron and Russ and whoever the other wing is, so there’s some good components to us playing big, but then there’s also good components to us playing small when I’m at the 5, so we just take it game by game.
“Obviously, this was a matchup where they don’t have a real dominant post presence or a guy who is really dominant on the offensive boards, so we wanted to look at that small lineup where I’m at the 5, but it can change game by game.”
As they’ve said at points earlier in the season, it appears the Lakers will go on a nearly game-by-game basis as to who will start this season. With Vogel’s history of wanting a large sample size before making decisions, this season will likely feature a lot of different lineups with so many new and moving parts, with the center position at the center of that experimenting. As long as it results in the right answers, all the short-term frustrations with some of the groupings will be worth it.