When Frank Vogel was asked last week about who would start for the Lakers this season, he was insistent that “no decisions have been made” before training camp.
“People ask me all the time, ‘are we gonna start AD at the 5? Are we gonna play with two bigs like we did two years ago? What’s it gonna look like?’” Vogel said. “The honest answer is that we don’t know yet. We’re gonna watch these guys play together in camp, measure the pros and cons of certain lineups, and find a lineup that we think is going to help us get off to a strong start.”
There is no reason not to believe him, but according to the giant story on the Lakers’ offseason that The Athletic dropped on Monday morning, the team is leaning in one specific direction: Anthony Davis starting at center.
Since Davis arrived from New Orleans two years ago, the Lakers’ best lineups have featured him at center. With Westbrook aboard, sources said Davis has emerged as the expected starting center, clearing the way for a likely starting five of him, Westbrook, Ellington, Ariza and James, according to sources. Third-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker, a rising, young talent for the Lakers, is also expected to compete in camp for a possible starting role.
All of that would be huge news if true. It’s worth noting as well that Dave McMenamin of ESPN also wrote on Sept. 3 that Wayne Ellington returned to the Lakers “potentially to be their starting shooting guard.” While he wasn’t explicitly sourcing that aside, McMenamin is as plugged in as any reporter covering the Lakers, and so it at least appears like word is getting around that these are a group of names that may have an early lead at securing starting spots.
The part about Horton-Tucker potentially being able to fight his way into the first unit with a strong camp is also interesting, and would potentially explain last week’s THT Preseason Hype Tour from Vogel and general manager Rob Pelinka.
But let’s not kid ourselves: By far the biggest takeaway here is that Davis is likely to be the starting center, a decision that has the potential to transform the way this team (and Davis himself) look in the regular season, and an earth-shaking alteration of both Davis’ and team’s prior philosophies on using him there.
There have been hints this could be in the works for a while, however. As our own Darius Soriano wrote last week in explaining why Davis will play more center this season regardless of if he starts there or not, the Lakers’ roster construction only leaves them with one change-of-pace, versatile 5 who can do more than catch lobs and be tall: It’s Davis. From a basketball perspective, him starting there — or at least playing center a lot more — is just something the Lakers have no other option but to do in certain scenarios.
Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times also reported right after the Westbrook deal that Davis had told his new co-stars that he would play more center to make their potentially awkward spacing work on the floor. The Athletic story also mentioned those meetings as preamble to Davis potentially starting at the 5 this year:
“Sacrifice,” one source close to the discussions said about the message in those talks. “Just sacrifice. Sacrificing on both ends. They all have to sacrifice. It don’t matter who you are. They’ve got to sacrifice. They know that.
“They talked about it. I think just out of respect for one another, ‘Hey man, this is the only way this is going to work — if we can do it.’ And so they had that understanding.”
It was that understanding that motivated Davis to be willing to take on a bigger share of the minutes at center. With him there, the Lakers can field a starting lineup with just one below-average 3-point shooter: Westbrook. That doesn’t mean there still won’t be kinks to work out.
The team will get a head start on working out those kinks when training camp begins on Tuesday, but if Davis is actually starting at center, then this changes a lot. Get ready for a big season from the big man, and a reminder that he’s not just a star, but a top-five to top-three player when healthy. MVP consideration is probably out the window considering that he has two co-stars, but a Defensive Player of the Year award and a return to the All-NBA first-team should be well within his grasp, health permitting.
We saw that level of potential during the Lakers’ title run as Davis played the majority of his minutes at the 5 in the playoffs, but seldom got glimpses of his fullest abilities as he hobbled through last season. It was always worth considering his feelings about playing the 5 and the toll it would take on his body, but if he’s comfortable and ready to do it more — with a properly spaced floor and playmakers in Westbrook and James to always share the court with — Davis starting at center is the last puzzle piece to confirm that this could be his best season in a Lakers uniform yet, and a reminder to the rest of the league of just how dangerous a healthy and optimized AD can be.
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