For the past three seasons, the Lakers’ starting center position was occupied as early as the start of training camp. It was JaVale McGee in 2019, Marc Gasol (who was replaced by Andre Drummond midway through the season) in 2020, and DeAndre Jordan last season. Under Frank Vogel’s regime, the Lakers had their fair share of centers who came and go, but it was clear that they were infatuated with vertical-spacing, lob-threat types of bigs.
However, this year, with a new head coach at the helm, the double big-based rotation is completely different for the purple and gold. Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant were brought back to Los Angeles to provide fresh legs (both players are in their mid-20s), offensive versatility, spacing, shooting and rebounding alongside Anthony Davis, who rightfully still remains bullish about playing the power forward position.
And unlike the past three seasons, there’s still no clarity about who will be slotted on the starting center position next to Davis to begin the year. When Jones and Bryant were individually asked on Monday’s Lakers Media Day if they were aiming for the starting job, both players sang the same tune and said that it didn’t really matter to them. Their goal is to win, whether that means coming off the bench or starting alongside LeBron James and Davis.
Jones said he’s excited for the competition and willing to live with the outcome:
“The options are all in the air so whatever happens, we’ll see but I mean, we’re all just competing just to get out minutes in and it’ll going to work out. I feel like we can definitely complement each other but whatever happens, happens. Whatever coach decides works.”
Bryant, meanwhile, admitted that while every player would like to start, it is not the most important thing to him:
“For me, of course, like whenever you play in this game of basketball, you always want to play with the best of the best all the time but it’s not about starting. It’s about what does this team need me to do, what can I bring to the table and how can I help myself and this team to perform the best way possible and that’s winning. All we care about is winning so it doesn’t matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench. We want to win.”
Aside from their desire to win and unconcern towards the starting job, both Jones and Bryant share similar views on why they complement each other. Bryant, who’s entering his fifth season as a stretch-five big, summed it up perfectly: Jones is the athletic big who will take charge of attacking and protecting the rim as well as catching lobs while Bryant will be responsible for knocking down 3-pointers, running in transition, rebounding, and scoring inside the paint.
Together, the Lakers’ front-court depth offers a variety of offense that can fit and thrive under Darvin Ham’s 4-out-1-in system and defensive philosophies. How often Bryant and Jones will be utilized in the system or see playing time in general will depend on how they perform on the defensive end. So while both players aren’t eagerly insisting to be slotted on the starting lineup, if they want to hear their name called with the first five, the role will have to be earned, not given, just like everyone else.
At the very least, Ham’s choices for the starting center role offer a lot more promise and potential, which is already a massive difference compared to last season. Hopefully the improved process will also lead to even better results.