On Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers secured their first win of this preseason against the Warriors, with the victory also serving as their first preseason win since December 2020. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Patrick Beverley rested during the game; however, Anthony Davis did play while starting at the center position.
This is not the first time that head coach Darvin Ham has tried to see what it looks like to have AD starting at the five. In last Wednesday’s game against the Suns, Davis was originally slotted into that starting center position with LeBron, Westbrook, Beverley, and Austin Reaves flanking him. Davis was a last-minute scratch, however, due to an abundance of caution taken with his lower back tightness, and Wenyen Gabriel ultimately took his spot in the lineup.
Davis again sat out the next night’s game against the Timberwolves, but in his return Sunday, Ham again decided to see how everything looked with AD at the starting five. If the head coach’s comments after Monday’s practice are any indication, he must have liked what he saw.
Darvin Ham: “AD (starting) at the five is under heavy consideration.”— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 10, 2022
First off, there’s already an obvious stark contrast in the way that Darvin Ham and former head coach Frank Vogel preemptively reveal their starting choices. Vogel kept things close to the chest all the way up until minutes to tip-off at times, while Ham appears to be way more forthcoming with the information he gives to reporters.
Speaking of Vogel, he also resisted starting Davis at the five despite the consistent benefits that those lineups presented to the Lakers. Vogel generally desired some added size and rebounding in the frontcourt that was theoretically provided when a traditional center started next to AD.
Given the way that the roster was constructed this 2022 offseason — featuring a plethora of guards and two centers in Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant — it seemed that Ham would be following Vogel’s same starting frontcourt model. By doing so, he’d lessen the negative impact of the roster having a lack of lengthy wing players.
That type of negative impact will most frequently present itself on the defensive end this season, whether it’s due to struggles securing rebounds or simply defending superstar wings in the league. But on offense, maybe starting Davis at the five will help further develop a style of playing free on that end, something that Davis talked about after the same Monday practice. With that offensive freedom, Davis thinks it will naturally lead to defensive production.
“But I think for the most part, the flow we have offensively and the freedom that we have offensively is second-to-none. We go out there and guys just get to play. As a player, when you’re able to feel free to play basketball on the offensive end, where a coach isn’t like “Don’t do this,” or trying to put you in a box, you kind of go harder on the defensive end when he needs you to do something. So that’s what everybody I know likes about Coach Ham.”
Even if Davis wasn’t explicitly talking about playing heavy minutes at the five in his comments about Ham’s style, it does make sense that this “free” nature of the offense would come easier with AD at center.
Any lineup with Damian Jones or Thomas Bryant in it will have less speed than if one or both of them are on the bench, while the overall playmaking of the lineup would also be negatively impacted. With Davis and four players from a pool of LeBron, Westbrook, Beverley, Reaves, Kendrick Nunn, etc., the Lakers would be able to run a lot of different sets out of the 4-in-1-out spacing system that Ham uses.
With the variety of different things that those types of lineups can do on the offense with their speed and playmaking, the Lakers could end up being a much better team this season on that end than any of us could have hoped for. It certainly worked out well on Sunday night even without LeBron, Westbrook, and Beverley, with the Lakers scoring 124 points and 28 of those coming from AD.
If Ham does this, hopefully he has a plan for the defensive end, where the Lakers will obviously be sacrificing a lot of height to their opponents within the two-through-four positions of each team’s respective lineup.
Darvin Ham says the Lakers’ approach to the final two preseason games will be “pretty real” in terms of treating them like regular season games. Meaning, maybe not full minutes for the key veterans, but putting them out on the court together for reps.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 10, 2022
We’ll have to see what starting lineup Ham deploys on Wednesday against the Timberwolves as well as the preseason finale Friday against the Warriors. He indicated that those games will be treated closely to how the Lakers will be treating their regular season games that start on Oct. 18. Given that fact, it’d be wise to expect AD to start at the five in that opening night game against the Warriors if he does so at all the rest of this week.