The discussion around the Lakers center minutes have focused on Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard and what the best way to split those 48 minutes between the trio was.
It turns out, the right answer may be to include LeBron James.
For the third game running, the Lakers turned to a lineup with James at the center on Sunday and, after seeing enough of it in action on the court, head coach Frank Vogel said after Sunday’s win over the Pistons that it would be part of the team’s gameplan moving forward.
“We played a different second unit tonight,” Vogel said. “We played the second unit that basically closed the game out in Indiana with LeBron and Melo at the four, five. Call it a centerless lineup. There is a lot more space for Russ. Bron has a lot more space as a roller going to the basket, which was effective and we just have more switchability on the defensive side of the ball. I do think that’s something we’re going to grow and will be a part of our team going forward.”
Notably, as Vogel stated, a version of that lineup closed the game in Indiana when Anthony Davis was out due to illness. That lineup found success against the Pacers with James playing alongside Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington and Malik Monk and posting a net rating of +61.4.
On Sunday, Talen Horton-Tucker swapped in for Ellington at times with the remaining quartet posting a net rating of +57.1 in six minutes.
The trade-off for the Lakers in playing James at center will be one of Jordan and Howard being left as the odd man out. Against Detroit, it was Jordan who got the start and played 21 minutes, finishing with nine points and six rebounds while notching a plus-minus of +8 all while Howard received a DNP. Vogel, though, said that the two bigs will rotate on who gets the night off moving forward.
“I will say that Dwight didn’t play tonight,” Vogel said. “We made a decision that if we’re going to look at this smaller second unit that one of our centers would play, not both. It’s not always going to be DJ. Sometimes it’ll be Dwight. You could see Dwight in the starting lineup with DJ being the third center or whatnot. We’ll just continue to evaluate that going forward.”
For a Lakers team that has been long on questions and short on answers this season, though, finding a potential solution in James at center moving forward could be a new key in unlocking the offense, and potentially even the defense, in the coming weeks.