The Lakers have exhausted so many options at the center position this season. Due to multiple injuries to Anthony Davis, the Lakers have had to go away from Plan A this season and have yet to find a reliable Plan B.
Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan both have proven, to varying degrees, that they are well past their primes and can’t produce regularly anymore. The team has tried smallball approaches, using Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza to, again, varying levels of effectiveness.
The LeBron James smallball approach has produced great benefits at times this season but isn’t a viable long-term approach, at least over the course of an entire game. Stanley Johnson has proven to be a viable role player as a small ball center option, but that still leaves the team mighty thin with only two reliable center options and both having been perimeter wings for much of their career.
The final untested piece on the roster is new signee Wenyen Gabriel. Brought in as a two-way signing, Gabriel has had stops and starts with brief flashes of potential throughout his career but has never found consistent production and, as a result, a long-term home.
For the first true time on Friday, the Lakers got a look at Gabriel in the rotation in the team’s win over Washington. In 13 minutes, he recorded five points and four rebounds but provided the Lakers reliable center minutes that have been hard to come by this year. After the game, head coach Frank Vogel spoke about Gabriel’s versatility and what makes him an enticing prospect.
“Wenyen is someone that we’re intrigued with,” Vogel said. “He’s got an interesting skillset, he’s very young, and inexperienced, so as a coach with a veteran group you’re a little bit nervous about it, but we want to see what he can do. And this was a game where we felt like we could throw him in there and just evaluate.
“He’s got the ability to shoot the three, credit to him for having the guts to step up and make a big three during that stretch. And obviously he can play as a roller and he’s got great length defensively that can switch or play in coverage against another team’s big. So he’s interesting to us and we’re going to spend some time here putting him in here and evaluating him.”
On paper, Gabriel would make sense as a fit with the Lakers and their commitment to playing smaller with spacing. Gabriel is a happy medium between playing James at center and playing Howard or Jordan at center.
The Lakers don’t have many viable options at center and seemingly anyone would be worth giving minutes. Gabriel is a high-energy big with 3-point shooting ability that could give the team an unexpected lift.
With the team struggling as mightily as it has this season, particularly in the front court, Gabriel is worth giving a shot to and could help the Lakers tread water to avoid free falling out of the play-in game.