In hindsight, one of the moves that may salvage anything from this Lakers season came out of necessity and not even the Lakers first choice. After seeing too many minutes of subpar center player from Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, head coach Frank Vogel turned to LeBron James at center back in December.
The result has been some of the best offensive basketball of James’ career, capped off with a pair of 50-point performances inside of a week against the Warriors and Raptors, the latter coming on Friday. Despite the new position, despite being 37 years old, despite dealing with a knee injury, James’ scoring outbursts have moved him to the NBA scoring leaderboards and, for now, is keeping any hope of a Lakers postseason run alive.
“It’s just unbelievable, the level he’s playing at,” Vogel said of Friday’s game. “Maybe after all these years, him playing center was the best way to utlitze him. Because that’s he’s been doing it, playing the center position with AD out, doing whatever the team needs to win games. Just an incredible, unbelievable and epic performance by LJ.”
Since his first start at center against the Rockets in late December, James is averaging 31.7 points on 52.6% field goal and 36.3% 3-point shooting. He’s tossing in 9.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists in those 26 games as well. During that span, only Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo have averaged more points.
And none of that is even taking into account that James is doing this out of position, playing at the center spot in year 19. Relying on his immense basketball IQ and the crazy athletic shape he is in, James has been more than serviceable as the team’s center, to the point that it will be a viable option even when and if Anthony Davis returns this year.
That the Lakers are still just 13-19 in that span is both an indictment on the rest of the roster and a testament to James for keeping the playoff hopes (barely) afloat without Davis. If the Lakers do hang onto their play-in game spot, it’ll be almost entirely because of James...and a move made out of desperation.