Looking back to the preseason and the beginning of training camp, the quotes and excitement surrounding Anthony Davis potentially playing center feels like it came in an entirely different season.
For those that forgot, Davis stepped to the mic as the first interview on Media Day and said he expected to play center this season. The qualifiers he added after that statement feel a lot more relevant in hindsight but the message was still the same in the moment.
“There was the expectation and that was discussed, and I expect to play center,” Davis said back in September. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Me and (head coach) Frank (Vogel) talked about it a couple of times and that’s the plan. Right now, nothing is set in stone but we want to see what that looks like, and I’m comfortable with that.”
It was clear that Davis had bulked up physically to account for the increased minutes at center. He had reportedly vowed to Russell Westbrook that he would play more center if he came to Los Angeles. That muscle came at the cost of his outside jumper but did see him scoring in the interior at a career-best rate.
But ultimately, as Lakers fans watched far too often, Davis did not exclusively play center and, even if his minutes went up as the lone big man on the court, it still left fans yearning for more.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Davis played 76% of his 1,403 (non-garbage time) minutes at center this season. That represents by far the biggest percentage of his minutes in any one season of his career.
Why doesn’t it feel like that, though?
Well, Davis did share the court with DeAndre Jordan for 190 minutes this season and, more specifically, he started 14 times alongside Davis as the center. Dwight Howard had four starts of his own alongside Davis and 147 minutes on the court with him as well.
Put simply, on 18 occasions — nearly half of the games Davis even played this season — the Lakers started him at power forward. And for 337 minutes, he played alongside a center that either should not be near a starting lineup or should not be near an NBA roster.
It’s hard to argue, especially after this season, that Davis’ body could take the wear and tear of an NBA season at the center position. If the Lakers’ goal is to have Davis available to play in the playoffs — or even make the playoffs — then Davis must be healthy. Once the postseason comes around, as we saw in 2019-20, Davis can step into the center position and dominate just fine.
That 2019-20 season should, in many ways, be the blueprint of how the Lakers build their roster, at least in the front court. Davis can be successful at the power forward position during the regular season, assuming the centers he’s playing alongside are viable NBA players unlike this past season.
The goal for the Lakers should be to have Davis ready to play center, experiment with those lineups to have a healthy sample size during the regular season but continue to have other centers on the roster that can both take the beating of playing against other centers and work as insurance for the games Davis will inevitably miss.
While this was a lost season as a whole for the Lakers, it doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons that can be taken away from it. There is a sweet spot for a percentage minutes Davis should play at center in the regular season if the Lakers want him healthy for the playoffs and finding that balance should be a big goal and focus this offseason.