With just under 10 minutes remaining and the Lakers trailing by 11 against the New York Knicks, head coach Frank Vogel decided to change things up at center. With Montrezl Harrell having arguably his worst game as a Laker and Andre Drummond not offering a whole lot more productivity against the swarming Knicks defense, Vogel looked down the bench and called on Marc Gasol, who was previously on-track for a DNP-CD.
For a brief moment, the move appeared to work. The Lakers went on an 8-0 run at one point, and ended up cutting the deficit to 92-87. It looked like Los Angeles might be back in the game, which is exactly what Vogel was looking for when he threw Gasol in there.
“All three of our centers have to stay ready, and we were looking for a spark. We were getting beat pretty good,” Vogel said. “You just look for a spark.”
But that spark didn’t last. Elfrid Payton promptly hit a layup on the other end, and then former Laker Julius Randle continued the best season of his career with an And-1 to push the Knicks’ lead back to 10 points. Just five minutes after inserting him, Vogel called Gasol back to the bench and put Andre Drummond back in. Gasol finished the night a team-high +2 in plus-minus. No other Laker finished as a positive.
Now, predictably, this has all led to a resurgence of Gasol vs. Drummond debates, or yelling that Vogel needs to play Gasol more and the like. I’m even guilty of contributing to this on our own postgame podcast. But the reality is that for whatever you think of Gasol, Drummond, or even Harrell as players, and their value as differing center options for the Lakers, this game is not some evidence that Gasol needs to overtake one of them in the rotation.
For one thing, it’s just one game, and for as good as the Lakers looked for a few minutes, the Knicks’ lead was nearly as large when Gasol exited as it was when he entered. Drummond also JUST FINISHED a game where he absolutely DOMINATED a team that it actually theoretically matters how the Lakers matchup against (the Nets) on Saturday.
I am open to the argument — and have made it myself — that Gasol is too good to be getting DNPs, but the reality is that it’s hard, if not impossible, to find minutes for three guys at center. And for as much as the Lakers could use Gasol’s creativity and floor-spacing as LeBron James and Anthony Davis continue to miss time, they also are barely practicing and need to get Drummond game time to get him acclimated to their system. There are real factors here that may necessitate him playing that go beyond individual games.
And in the end, we’ve seen with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard last year that if a player isn’t working in a specific matchup, Vogel is more than happy to bench them and go with the best players or lineups for that situation before coming back to them in a matchup that is better. Right now, the Lakers are just giving Drummond a fair chance to get up to speed and be ready for those opportunities in the postseason, and so despite a few strong minutes from Gasol, last night isn’t necessarily evidence that they should change that plan.